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hurricane on the edge of oblivion (with nowhere to go)

Chapter Text

“He’s escaping!”

“Get him!”

“Watch out he—”

There is a startled, garbled cry before one of the men tumbles off the roof, clutching the bright hot mess of his shoulder. The rain streaks down out of the dark, roiling sky. The rooftops of the complex are slick, and even the guards who have been there for years feel disoriented, the winding paths flickering in the light of the lightning streaking across the sky so far above. The forest surrounding the facility sways, branches twisting and leaves rippling to match the skies. This little unnameable moon rarely hosts such terrible storms and the men are not used to it. When the storm had first started they had huddled down, content to wait it out, but then—

Then an intruder was spotted in the Archives and the alarms were set blaring and bright and they had no choice but to face the terror of the skies because the terror they would face if they failed was much greater than this.

“He’s headed to the woods!”

The security guards skid across the rooftops, eyes peeled for the slip of shadow they pursued. Amidst the roiling chaos it is a miracle they could follow him at all.

Perhaps that had been his intent all along.

One of the guards who dotes upon ancient Gods and believes in much more than the rest shudders to think that the intruder has called upon the storm. Has coaxed the fury of the planet to life and whirled it like a cloak about his shoulders to keep hidden.

Later he will voice these concerns in a trembling voice and the others will laugh, but deep in their bellies fear will knot and weigh down upon their hearts.

But for now he races over the rooftops, hands clutching a sniper blaster rifle. His eyes flick over the low roofs, along the high walls of the facility, and— there! His eyes catch on a wisp of shadow. Immediately, he drops to one knee, feet slipping for a moment before he finds his balance. Rain sluices into his eyes and he has to blink hard to clear his vision as he lifts his rifle. He lets the butt of it fall heavily upon his shoulder, and he hides a wince he doesn’t have to. No one can see him. Not in this rain, not now that he is still as the steel beneath his knee. He peers through the scope and breathes steady, letting his trembling cold fingers become as still as ice.

There. He spots the slip of shadow again. Unnervingly small. He breathes deep again. Follows the figure with the barrel of his blaster. Breathes in. Breathes out. Pulls the trigger.

The intruder goes down in a burst of scarlet light.

The guard’s breath hitches. He’s done it!

But just as he lets his fingers relax— Just as another guard finally catches up to the downed intruder—

A burst of bright hot light blazes through the dark of the night.

The guard watches slack jawed, breath lost, as the intruder rises up, a band of blazing light shatters like the trail of a comet from their fingertips. The light flickers upon the intruder’s features— a child— and the guard who had caught up with the intruder falls with an eerie silence.

Everything seems to stand still. The guard cannot feel the rain upon his frozen cheeks. Does not hear the rushing howl of the wind. Does not see the swirling of the clouds above or the churning trees edging along his vision.

The intruder. The child. He looks across the slicked rooftops, blazing light still in hand, casting his face in a sick light, and catches the guard’s gaze.

His eyes are like twin cold stars.

Then without a sound, the intruder disappears up and over the wall into the roiling storm.

-:-

“…nt? Bant? Padawan? What is on your mind today? I feel as if your body is here and your eyes in the clouds.”

Bant blinks hard, lets out a harsh breath she hasn’t known she’s been holding. “Yes, Master Tahl.”

The woman standing in front of Bant gives her an incredulous look, gold-green eyes wide. Her dark honey hands set her holobooks onto the desk between them. She turns her full attention upon her apprentice when she says, “Yes what, my very young padawan?”

Bant ducks her head, cheeks flushing crimson. “Yes, I was listening, Master.”

“Then what did I just say?”

There is some amusement in her Master’s voice and yet Bant still feels mortified. They haven’t been Master and apprentice for long enough that Bant feels completely comfortable with Tahl yet. She still feels an overwhelming need to prove herself even as a tiny whisper in the back of her mind asks: Why do you need their approval to be proud of who you are?

Bant does not utter a word. After some long moments she hears her Master let out a long and deep sigh. “Is it him, again?”

Bant stares at the floor beneath her webbed feet. She gives a slow, shaky nod.

There is another, deeper sigh. “Perhaps we need to visit the Healing Halls today.”

Bant’s head shoots up. “No!” She backtracks, eyes wide, mouth gaping, trying to find words to cover her outburst. “I- I only mean…It is not serious. Only a feeling. A- An impression of words, of an image. Nothing more.”

Tahls raises one single, dark brow. Her braid cascades over her shoulder, beads bright against her skin. “And just what did you see, my padawan?”

Bant’s eyes tremble, heart in her throat. She chokes once and, defeated, the words stumble from her lips. “The wrath of the gods. Fear. A bright blaze— steady in the midst of roiling storm. But it-  the cold blue of it was wrong, I- I don’t know. It caught oddly in the hollows of his eyes, his cheeks…” She trailed off, brow furrowed, mouth twisted. “I- there was no ill intent. Just, just misunderstanding.”

Tahl eyes Bant for a long, silent while, brow still raised. Then, as if she has no choice, she sighs. Again. It is like there is a weight upon her shoulders when she slumps, hair bobbing about her temples like rings of a planet. “I have to wonder…”

Salmon pink hands fidget as Bant ducks her head for the second time that day. She cannot look her Master in the eye. She feels ashamed. Confused. Worried and defensive as she has felt since the day one of her dearest friends left her. “He means no harm.” Her voice is a harsh whisper, pleading. Almost teary. Most definitely weary. She’s said this many times over the past two years.

“You are my dear padawan.” Tahl’s fond tone leaves no room for argument. She lays a gentle, firm hand upon Bant’s fragile shoulder. “Any worries I have are for your well-being.”

The small Mon Calamari’s head shakes sad and slow. “I know, my Master.”

Tahl’s fingers squeeze, reassuring. “Tell Master Yoda of your latest vision, we will.”

Bant has a sudden flash of half-remembered words whispered in her ear, arms curled warm about the curve of her back.

Miss you, I will

Sorry, I am

Her eyes glaze, she shakes her head, raises her eyes to meet her Master’s concerned gaze. “Yes, Master.”

Master and apprentice quickly and quietly return the holobooks to their proper places and leave the Archives. Tahl keeps a concerned eye upon her apprentice’s small back. There is rigidity in the young Mon Calamari’s spine, hidden within the softness of her character. Kindness of the heart is not the only reason Tahl chose her padawan. Nor is her budding skill in healing.

There is a bitterness in the youngling’s eyes, to the crook of her mouth, that Tahl knows has not always been there.

Tahl lets her fingers clench, then relax.

One day she will meet Obi-Wan Kenobi. One day she will meet him and demand to know if he had intended to do all that he has done.

-:-

“Clearly I need to invest in superior employees, for the ones in my current service are not good enough.

The Nautolan cowers, lekku trembling as his eyes stare at his feet and not up at the terrifyingly blank face of the man before him. “I— I’m sorry, sir, but—”

“Enough.” The voice is like a lightning strike.

The Nautolan does not need to look up to know that the man lounges back in his seat like a panther, long fingers artfully placed on his smooth polished desk, eyes like twin black holes. The Nautolan knows his employer, and he is right to be afraid of him.

“I have spent that last five years rebuilding what was lost. I have spent the last five years in careful planning and it is all about to go up in smoke because you cannot keep a simple facility secure?”

“I am sorry, my Lord, I—”

“Stop your blubbering. You are dismissed and will be replaced by someone who is more qualified than you. If you are not gone from this facility within the next five minutes you will regret ever coming into my employ.”

The Nautolan does not bother to say that he has regretted it since day one.

He makes a quick bow and turns to hurry out of the room before his employer’s voice stops him once more.

“If you would please send in the last set of personnel you hired in order to correct your mistake.”

The Nautolan gulps. He knows his now former employer well enough to realize that politeness does not equate to authenticity. Or respect. “Yes, sir,” he mutters and leaves the room.

The man at the desk lets out a long, irritated sigh, leans forward and lifts his hand to massage his temple. A moment of weakness he’d never allow anyone else see. The room is circular, home to one large desk, rows of shelves and holobooks and one enormous window that take up the space behind him. Outside the burnished sunset sets the towering city about them aglow. It casts the room into flame and the man and his desk smudge a shadow that looms in the room. The glass is transparisteel and there is no chair for any visitor to sit in. The man himself is a sharp silhouette of coal.

A light knock. The man drops his hand back onto the desk and sets himself into an easy lounge once again. “Enter.”

The double doors swing open and four people file in. The man surveys them with a critical eye.  The first is a hulking Annoo-dat Prime. He is a bulging mass of bloody-scaled limbs. Out of confidence he wears very little, clothing draped about his hips and his claws dipped in steel. His reptilian head bows not in reverence but in promise of a threat. His maw gapes, horrid smirk curling his non-existent lips, letting his crowded teeth glint in the light, and his eyes flash, one set nestled beneath the other, jutting above his cheeks. The spikes of his head have thin strips of leather wrapped about them, and with every step he takes, the tiny bones at the end of the strips clatter against each other.

The Gorum is a little surprising. The man thinks he might never have even seen one in the flesh before. The humanoid slouches instead of standing tall, hair messy and a dank brown, falling into his shadowed scarlet eyes. His eye sockets and cheeks are so hollow you could practically see the bones beneath his skin. He wears simple armour. A blaster at his hip. His prehensile tail is a curl of anxiety against his ankle, and his forked tongue wisps over his lips.

The third is a female Khil. She is completely swathed from throat to toe in leather and armour. A giant, curved blade with many jutting teeth rests upon her back. Her skin is a sickly green-grey upon her smooth head, gristled greyer around her black eyes, and the tendrils that dangle from beneath her sharp nose and cheeks curl into the darkest green. They tremble slightly with her every breath.

The last is almost expected. There are so many Ubese bounty hunters. This one looks no different from the rest. They’re small, possibly a woman, but how could one tell with the mask. Their hood gapes about their leather-covered throat, well-worn armour dulled and plated beneath the collar. They are, of course, completely covered, as all Ubese bounty hunters tend to be. Straps line their hips, as do several blasters of varying size. Their mask seems oddly disproportionate to the rest of their body, but the man supposes he’s gotten used to it over the years.

The man stays silent for some long minutes, simply observing. The Annoo-dat shifts from foot to foot, huffing almost imperceptibly, eyes narrowing with each passing minute. His massive hands flex and his claws clink against one another. The Khil is completely still but for the faint tremble of her tentacles, and a single tilt of the head, expectant. The Gorum’s tail is a constant twitch. His eyes dart from left to right. If he had ears to match his tail, the man suspected that they would be flicking, too. The Ubese is a silent wisp of shadow.

“You have been called in here because my… unfortunate associate deemed it appropriate to fix his blunder. He thought you all capable and worthy of employ here. However, his judgment has been called into question. As of this moment, you are not official employees here and will remain so until I have evaluated you personally.”

This is the test. Not that the Annoo-dat knows that. As he so proves in the next moment when his spikes bristle and a rumble quakes through his chest to burst through his gaping maw in a roar.

His words are garbled as he hunches and springs towards the man at the desk, talons slashing and jaw primed to rip and devour.

He goes down in flashes of blaster fire and a terrible whorl of crimson.

His body smashes into the desk, splintering the wood with his bloodied bulk. The only sounds when his body settles into the creaking wood are the sizzle of cauterized flesh and the bubble of fresh blood from his split skull and chest. His tongue lolls, half bitten through, flabby flesh. His back is a riddled mass of smoking pits.

The man has leapt to the side. Now a profile of curling eclipse limned in bloody-gold. His cheek catches the dying of the sun which in turn edges shadow into the circular raised scar below his eye. He turns to the remaining three bounty hunters. His eyes blaze in the scarlet of the lightsaber he holds in his hand.

“Self-preservation is admired, and yet I do not look for that in an employee. You, Gorum, may leave.”

The Gorum, who huddles against the door, blaster clutched tight to his chest, frantically nods his head and, tail quivering, scrambles out the doors.

“You two, however, I would like to employ.”

The Khil eyes the smoking corpse and gives a tight nod, tucking her hidden blaster back into the depths of her armour. However, she keeps her grip of the blade, steady and long against her side. Defensive.

“What is your name, Khil?”

“Lev’noxi Moulti,” she says, voice lilting as Khils’ tend to be.

“Lev’noxi. You are now our new head of security.  If you step outside one of the sentries will show you where to go.”

The only surprise she shows is a slight widening of the eyes and the flutter of tendrils along her jaw. “Yes, my Lord.” The doors click behind her. Her sword is still in her hand.

“And now you.”

The man turns the intensity of his gaze upon the Ubese before him. “Who are you, Ubese?”

The Ubese’s blasters are tucked into their belt. But the man knows that one of them is still warm from recent use. He saw the scorched hole at the vulnerable base of the Annoo-dat’s skull. Saw the charred mess of the Annoo-dat’s right eyes.

He knows a single kill shot when he sees one.

The Ubese looks like they haven’t even moved since they entered the room. When they speak, their voice is raspy, as all Ubese’s are. But instead of speaking Ubese, as Ubese usually do, their words are in Basic while their hands flutter in Ubeninal sign language. “I am Olau.”

The man lifts a brow. “And do you speak Basic purely for my sake, Olau?”

Olau inclines their head. “My only wish is to accommodate my employer. And be paid for finishing the job.” Their hands still flutter. It is like they do it without a thought.

The man studies the Ubese for a long moment. “Well, then, Olau. I appreciate the honesty. However, I would like my new bodyguard,” and hear the Ubese’s head jerks, “to address me properly.” The lightsaber still ablaze in his hand snips into death, to grow cold in his palm.

The Ubese is silent for one long moment. The last rays of the sun are weak against the dull gleam of their helm. Then they bow deep and low, voice grating in the silence of the office. “Yes, My Lord Xanatos.”

Xanatos’ smile is a nasty one. Jagged, curling, elegant blood red lips against pale white skin. “I think we will get along well, you and I.”

The sun finally slips below the horizon, silent, like a wisp of smoke, the final ember flickering out. Telos IV is thrown into the darkness of the night.

-:-

“You know, Master? It might be best if you did give in to Master Yoda and finally took on another apprentice.”

“You know I can’t do that. And I am your Master no longer. You have no need to call me by anything but my name.”

A huffed laugh.

“Whether you like it or not, you will always be my Master. Even when I am annoying you into grey hair I will always be your padawan.”

Qui-Gon lets out a weary, belly-laugh. He leans back in his chair and sets his cup of tea upon the table before him. “Oh, Feemor, there is no doubt about that. You have already been doing that for an age.” His smile is good-natured and he seems a little more energetic than he did earlier that day. When they caught wind of the latest news.

Feemor lets a gentle smile grace his lips and has to remind himself not to let his brows furrow. His former Master has seemed drained the past few years, and only recently has the light begun to truly shine in his eyes once more. Feemor lets himself study the crinkles at the corners of his Master’s eyes, at the edges of his mouth, as Qui-Gon reaches out to grasp his tea once more and close his eyes to take a long, steady sip.

They sit in Qui-Gon’s modest apartment. They’re settled in the kitchen, hands wrapped around cups of tea, pot steaming between them. The light of the afternoon drifts in, soft, from the living room where plants curl and stretch along the windows and up the walls. This is the apartment Qui-Gon has had for years. Since Xanatos. Since Feemor. He is content with his place, and forces his eyes not to linger upon the empty room at the end. Where he thinks no padawan will ever sleep again.

Yet he has not the heart to leave. To deny himself completely.

They have fallen into silence. Qui-Gon knows his former apprentice watches him. He takes one more drink of tea. Clinks the cup upon the table once more. Heaves a sigh. Says:

“Young Bant Eerin is having…difficulties.”

Feemor does frown this time. “Master, we have no way of knowing what she is truly seeing. It could be past, present or future— and we do not even know if the future she sees will come to pass.”

Qui-Gon raises shadowed eyes. “It is still troubling.”

They share a moment of silence, then:

“Especially when what she sees seems to be connected to young Kenobi.”

Feemor knows this. That is why he is worried.

“If we could only find him—” Qui-Gon interrupts himself, gaze far-off. “In another life, maybe, he could have been my- my padawan, but now…”

Feemor distinctly remembers two years ago when the Temple was in an uproar. A youngling had disappeared. An Initiate. Barely ten. He’d been about to get his own ‘sabre crystal, but had been waylaid by a strange bout of sickness. No one could figure out what was going on. Then one morning the youngling was simply…gone. No word. No indication of how or why or where he might have gone.

Feemor had not found out until later that Qui-Gon had been the last to see him. That Qui-Gon had been the last to speak with him. He did not find this out until several months later when a hesitant knock sounded at his apartment door and outside it stood Qui-Gon, hair frazzled, great shadows beneath his weary eyes.

“I am sorry, my young padawan,” he had said. His words had sent a jolt through Feemor who had not spoken with his former Master for three years. “I am sorry I renounced you. I was a fool. Caught up in my own pain, I did not think of you.” Then:

“I do not know what to do.”

And:

“I do not what to think.”

Finally:

“This youngling told me— but now he is gone and I—”

His voice had broken off with a choke.

Feemor, outwardly calm and inwardly reeling, had stepped into Qui-Gon’s shaking arms. Then led him into his apartment where they sat together until well past morning’s first light.

Neither had forgotten the pain of the past, but they were on good terms once more. Though Feemor was a little leery of this youngling who had so shaken his former Master, he was grateful for the reconciliation Kenobi had inadvertently set into motion.

But with young Bant’s frequent visions…

“Master, have you ever thought…”

“What?” Qui-Gon’s glance is sharp.

Biting his lip, Feemor looks down at his hands. The cup has gone cold between them. Even seems to begin sucking the warmth out of his fingers, his callused palms. “It is nothing.”

Bant’s visions are troubling, full of shadow and violence. At the centre of it all is one person. Sometimes man. Sometimes boy. Sometimes something else entirely. But it is always Kenobi, there is no denying that. His essence is the same, no matter how it twists and warps and crumbles. His Force signature churns in the depths of her dreams. The visions are occurring more frequently. She has to have weekly meditation with Yoda now, who knows more about the Unifying Force than most anyone.

And now one of Kenobi’s other friends, Reeft, who has just entered apprenticeship, is beginning to get them, too. But these are of a different nature. Darker. More confusing. The youngling recognizes nothing in these and has to fight to get words out. Any that make sense, at least. Feemor thinks of “Chosen One,” of “Sand Eaters” and of “The People of the Twin Suns.”

No one can hardly make any sense of it. The thought of the Chosen One, of a prophecy yet to be fulfilled, looms over the Temple like a great shadow. Not many are supposed to have heard of these visions, but word travels fast.

“Is there to be a second Rising?” Jedi whisper.

“Do the Sith yet live?” Jedi cannot help but fear.

“Who is to blame?”

“How can this be?”

“What do we do?”

“What can we possibly do?”

Feemor refuses to join in the gossip, but that does not mean he is above eavesdropping. He likes to know what is going on, especially when it is so incomprehensibly connected to his former Master whom he cares for more than the Code says he should.

Feemor has perhaps always cared more than he should. It is probably why he and Qui-Gon get along so well, why they made such a good team as Master and padawan.

Qui-Gon gives him a long, searching look. But he only deigns to say, “Tahl wants to sup with us tonight. She has a new bottle of Corellian wine she is willing to share.”

Feemor groans. “I hope she doesn’t expect me to cook.”

Qui-Gon’s mouth curls in a wry smile. “Well, would you rather I cook?”

Feemor groans again. “Please Force no, Master. You would poison us all.”

Qui-Gon lets out a hearty laugh. “I believe this is how she tricks you into cooking, my naïve padawan.”

Their solemn mood is forgotten as they refill their cups with steaming tea, laughter ringing in the waning afternoon sun.

Chapter Text

Despite himself, Xanatos has become rather fond of his new head of security, as well as his new bodyguard.

Moulti is ruthlessly efficient. Within the first day of her new position she had set about evaluating every single person in security and before the week was done, had weeded out the weakest and laziest and hired in others nearly as efficient as she.

She speaks rarely, and when she does even though her words are blunt and sometimes bordering on cruel, Xanatos is pleased to see that her coworkers cannot not help but listen and obey. The man briefly wondered if it has to do with her voice, soft and beautiful as it is, or something else entirely. But then he dismissed such notions. As long as Moulti is efficient and does as he demands in order to keep the Offworld Mining Corporation in business, he really does not care how she gets it done.

Olau he cannot not help but like. The Ubese is, as Moulti, a creature of few words. But when they speak it is with a wry sarcasm and dry wit that Xanatos finds himself appreciating. The Ubese is a constant, silent shadow and in the last few weeks has stopped no less than fifteen assassination attempts. Xanatos may be loved by his people, but that does not mean people off-world love him for his business. Or his late father, for that matter.

Xanatos’ fists clench for one brief moment, before he relaxes once more, and continues listening to a business associate prattle on. It does nothing to dwell on his former Master. In time, he will exact his revenge, but he cannot do that at this moment. He has a while yet until he will be ready.

Right now he is dining in a rather high-end restaurant in a private room with several competitors. They are discussing possibly merging their companies. Xanatos is planning for this to happen, and he, of course, will covertly dispose of these fools as soon as the merger is safe and sound, leaving him in control.

He needs to be ready to face the traitor he once called his friend. His almost-father. This merger is one step in a long journey to reach that point.

Xanatos suddenly feels Olau’s presence right beside his shoulder. He glances up and gives a slight shake of the head. Olau returns an equally slight nod and silently steps back into the shadows of the room.

That is another reason why Xanatos finds himself liking Olau. The Ubese is far more perceptible than most. With just a brief clench of his hand Olau knew something was wrong. Xanatos knows he could have stopped any one of the assassinations. Or, at least, he would like to think he could have. But with the Ubese as observant as they are, Xanatos has found that he is starting to rely on the creature despite his instincts screaming at him to never trust another sentient being ever again. It has been nearly three months. He should not be-be liking and relying on someone after so little time. Even if they are constant companions due to the nature of the Ubese’s job.

It is not like with Moulti who is efficient and someone Xanatos grudgingly respects and relies upon to get her work done. This is someone Xanatos is relying upon to save his life.

The past few years have been…weary, to say the least. Trying. When Qui-Gon left him broken and bleeding on Telos IV, heart shredded, in agony, betrayed by the very person he trusted most…Xanatos became someone else. Not necessarily someone he likes, but Xanatos knows he is headed down a path that will lend him the power to survive and claw his way up in the galaxy. To prove himself. His life has been at the hands of far too many people who have ruined it.

That day on Telos IV, when Qui-Gon struck down Xanatos’ father, Xanatos knew that from that point on he was going to be in charge of his own destiny, and by the gods, when Xanatos does finally die, he is going to do it on his own terms, as well.

He will not be anyone’s puppet. Never again.

Xanatos senses some of this in Olau. The Force ebbs and flows about them, crackling in grief and spiking in defiance. It tugs at Xanatos. Xanatos hired Olau not only for their accuracy and brutal efficiency in dealing with the Annoo-dat, but because he did not trust them.

How easy it would be to infiltrate his company under the guise of a creature who never shows skin? The use of Basic had him even more suspicious, and the Ubeninal made him confused, wary. Questioning.

Of course he feels their Force signature. Even tamped down as it is. But even if the Ubese, or whoever they are beneath that shroud and mask, has training enough to listen to and obey the whispers of the Force, enough to wield its power, they cannot not hide all that they have been through. The Force leaves marks, Xanatos knows. He has them himself. He feels the way the Force condenses and tingles about his shoulders, twisting about the writhing scarlet of his blade. This Ubese has the marks of someone who has suffered. Of someone who simultaneously accepts and rejects everything that has been done to them.

This is ultimately why Xanatos finds himself trusting the Ubese. Well, perhaps it is more that he trusts his instincts about the Ubese. That he trusts that he understands Olau. That eventually he’ll know exactly what Olau is thinking at any given moment and anticipate their every action. He isn’t really sure, anymore.

There is a kinship there born of grief and loss and pain. Xanatos knows no Jedi would be cradled in the Force as this Ubese is.

Xanatos is toying with the idea of training Olau as an apprentice. Later, when he has gotten to know them more. When he knows for sure that the Ubese will say yes.

He hired Olau because he did not trust them. To keep them close to observe and learn and eventually act on his suspicions. But now he finds himself trusting such an individual?

Xanatos can hardly trust himself.

This is probably why he fights so hard to survive.

(this is also why he thinks he might have let the Ubese linger in his mind, because he is so, so tired of not being able to trust, of having to do everything by himself)

(it’s been five years since he’s had a shoulder to lean on)

(and the chronometer is still ticking)

But now this Ubese…they remind him of things he has lost. Things he thought he would never have again. Understanding. Companionship. Maybe even empathy.

Xanatos is part furious with himself. And part relieved.

“Lord Xanatos?”

He barely restrains himself from startling. “Yes?” His tone is as polite as ever during meetings such as these. He cannot afford to dissuade anyone.

The plump man across from him huffs, dabbing at a dribble of sauce on his collar. “I believe we have, hrm, come to an agreement. For now. Shall we set our next, hm, meeting?”

Xanatos has practice in not letting his lip curl in disgust. “Why yes,” he sets his mouth in a pleasant smile, lets his eyes crinkle, “I rather think we shall.”

Pleasantries are exchanged, hands shaken, dates set and Xanatos is finally out the door of the restaurant with servers bowing in his wake. His speeder waits outside. Olau is a constant shadow. The city nightlife on Telos IV is nothing like Coruscant, but Xanatos still lets himself reminisce for a moment. The stars are blotted out by the looming buildings and twinkling lights. Speeders whizz passed. At his back he can hear distant chatter and laughter spilling from the restaurant’s open doors.

“Sir?”

Xanatos turns his distant gaze to his driver. “Home, I think,” he murmurs. Xanatos climbs into the back of the speeder. Olau slides in next to him. Their gloved hand brushes Xanatos’ arm. Cold even through the fabric of his coat.  

“Will you indulge me today, Olau?”

The Ubese’s head tilts in his direction. The speeder quivers beneath them as it zips away. Xanatos’ hair whips in the wind, and he lets it, uncaring. He knows the sight he makes, and it is not unappealing. Perhaps that is why his people love him, even with the telltale scar curled across his cheek.

Xanatos lets a wry, almost weary smile grace his lips. “I feel the need to work off my irritation of being cooped up with those revolting men.”

The Ubese is silent for a moment before their voice rasps out, “How am I supposed to protect you if I tire myself out, my Lord?”

Olau no longer lets their hands flutter in Ubeninal. It is not needed. They also seem to find it easier to call Xanatos “my Lord” nowadays. They were hesitant, almost reluctant before.

Xanatos imagines that one day Olau will call him “Master.”

He tries to not to take pleasure from it.

(there is no denying that he does, though)

Xanatos lets out a derisive laugh. “Well, with any luck Moulti has made my private home nigh on impenetrable. If she hasn’t we may need to discuss other… arrangements for her.” Xanatos can tell that Olau deliberately does not react. They are as still as a can be in a speeder racing through the heart of the city to the outskirts of the mountains. To where Xanatos spends his leisure time. To his home. (or what he calls home nowadays)

Xanatos continues, “Besides, you and I both know we can handle anything thrown at us.” Xanatos frowns, he hadn’t meant to say ‘us’. He thinks Olau shares his confusion and unease, feels it slither in the Force along the Ubese’s arms.

He covers up his trepidation by quickly saying, “I would not have hired you if I hadn’t thought you could handle yourself. And you know my skills, Olau. I am not helpless.” Here, irritation leaks through, because it is true. Xanatos is far more capable than many of his business associates assume. He was trained as a Jedi Knight, after all, no matter if it seems lifetimes ago.

Xanatos looks out at the buildings flashing by. “I can think of no better way to spend the evening than to spar with you.”

Olau is so very still beside him.

Xanatos wonders if perhaps Olau is silently laughing at him behind that wretched mask. Xanatos is not a small man, he is far from it. He is tall and while he may not be hulking, his limbs, his torso, his shoulders, have a definite strength to them. Olau is…tiny in comparison. Xanatos is used to working with non-human sentients and so had not lingered long on this fact. Well, at least no longer than to briefly wonder about Olau’s gender, before dismissing it as unimportant.

Now, though. Now, Xanatos turns to look at the Ubese full on. Olau is formidable. He has known since that first kill shot. Since Olau fell into step like a shadow that first night. Since the first assassin. And the assassin after that. There is no denying that Olau is easily one of the most skilled fighters Xanatos has ever met (and that is saying something), and yet…Olau barely reaches his chest. In fact, the tip of the helmet barely brushes the bottom of his sternum—the added height of the helmet, mind you. It certainly is not rare for Ubese to be so short, and yet…

Xanatos can imagine Olau laughing at him behind that mask, thinking of that tiny, fierce figure facing off against his looming height. With his lightsaber, Xanatos knows he’d win against Olau’s blasters. In hand-to-hand Xanatos would have the advantage of height, weight, and strength. But Xanatos thinks Olau has a sort of ingenuity that could cost him the spar. Olau is as quick on their feet as they are with their mind.

That first assassin had been in a crowd. Xanatos had been walking through the space port to meet a contact with Olau in tow. It had only been a few days after the fiasco with the Annoo-dat. Just as Xanatos had been rounding one hulking ship, the Force had pushed at the very edge of his senses, insistent, sharp. He had answered in kind, grasping the hilt of his ‘sabre to bring it to life and deflect the blaster bolt, but he needn’t have bothered. With one swift shove, Olau had forced him to the ground, then leapt into the air to bound off the hull of the hulking ship and down the would-be-assassin with a quick aim of a blaster.

It was over within seconds.

Olau had clipped the man in his dominant arm, effectively disabling him. The interrogation took only a simple Force persuasion from Xanatos and the police force (whom Xanatos had significant influence over) were quick to arrive and take the offending man away. This left Xanatos with a plan to take out the business associate who had wished to rid himself of competition, and the revelation that Olau was even more competent than he had originally thought.

Every assassination attempt afterwards was much the same. Xanatos would feel the warning from the Force, but Olau would already be on the move, leaping into action to disable the offender more often than outright killing them. The poisonings were no different. Olau would knock the cup to the ground and somehow knew instantly who the culprit was. The Ubese would seize them by their clothing, hold the blaster to their head and calmly ask them their intentions and who hired them in that raspy voice of theirs.

But so rarely does Olau kill.

Xanatos has taken notice.

When the third assassin, a young serving girl with an anguish in her eyes that Xanatos refused to acknowledge, had her meagre knife knocked from her hand, Xanatos had sighed. “Have her sent to—” he began with a dismissive wave of his hand, but Olau had stepped forward. Interrupted. Placed a steady hand on the trembling girl’s shoulder.

“Should we not find out her reasons for attacking you?”

Xanatos had stared. “All right, then,” he acquiesced after one long moment.

Olau had turned to the girl (and oh my they were the same height and looked so fragile standing next to one another). Her cheeks were streaked with terrified tears. She was biting her lip. Anger and shame made her eyes tight and narrow.

“Why did you attack Lord Xanatos?” Olau’s voice was as gentle as could be through the distorting filter of their mask.

Her lip had curled into a snarl that had no place on the face of one so young. She could not have been more than twelve, or thirteen. She hiccupped, furiously rubbed the tears from her cheeks and red eyes. “My, my brother. He was a loyal servant of Lord Xanatos, and- and he died.” She turned to face Xanatos full on, body tense, hands curled into fists. She trembled in barely-contained rage. “It’s all your fault!” she snarled, voice breaking. “He was all I had left and it’s all your fault!”

Xanatos saw himself with flames roaring at his back, fist curled around his father’s ring, staring his Master down with a fury that threatened to consume his entire being (that did consume him entirely- it ate him away- devoured him whole until there was nothing left- nothing he recognized, at least).

Olau had placed their free hand on the girl’s other shoulder. A firm grip to hold her back. Olau turned that expressionless mask to him.

It shouldn’t have been so accusatory.

“You will be compensated,” Xanatos found himself saying. “I will ensure you have a home and will be supported through school until you are ready to enter the work force. You are welcome to return to my employ then.”

A look of such contempt, such disgust, twisted the girl’s face. “You think I want your money? I don’t want anything you have to offer me! I want you dead!

Xanatos wasn’t sure if he had ever seen a more disturbing sight.

The girl screamed and tried to claw at him. But Olau had wrapped their arms tight around her torso, letting her sharp elbows jab them in their helmet and throat.

“I will see to h—” a jab to the chin, “—her. Lord Xan-uh!-tos.” Olau had dragged the girl from the room. Her screaming followed them all the way into the hall where suddenly everything became quiet. Xanatos had felt a soothing caress of the Force near the beat of his heart.

That was when he knew that Olau knew how, in some ways at least, to channel the Force, to mold it to their will. Olau was gone for nearly an hour before they slipped back into the room. Their ever present cloak was missing (it would be replaced the next day), and so the four blasters at their hip glistened in the artificial light of the study. Xanatos had given a cursory glance to the extra pouches on their hips. One or two of them seemed to hold significant weight, but did not clank.

He did not inquire, and Olau did not offer.

Xanatos never heard from the girl again.

(but a brief investigation led him to a planet several systems away where the girl was, if not happy, then recovering with a new, loving family, all expenses paid for)

(Xanatos had to wonder how many credits Olau had before they came into his employ, and how many credits they would have to spend now even with their substantial salary)

(he never looked into the dead brother)

Xanatos wonders how someone who at times can be so ruthless, so efficient, can possibly be so compassionate. It’s what makes him hesitate when it comes to Olau. He feels like they are the same through their suffering. Yet these instances make it brutally obvious how different they are.

Xanatos does not lend a hand to servants who have stumbled over their own two feet. Does not send a calming wave to a wailing babe in a crowd. Does not stop to inspect a limping animal on the grounds of Xanatos’ home. Often, Olau is subtler in their kindness. Xanatos knows Olau knows that you must be a certain type of person in order to employed by Xanatos. That you must be willing to let go of your morals (if you even have any) in order to get the job done.  

Xanatos has not mentioned anything because despite Olau having a distinct conscience (which is highly unusual for an Ubese bounty hunter, which makes him think that whoever is under that mask isn’t an Ubese at all), he can tell that Olau’s attention is always on the alert. In these past three months Xanatos has never once seen Olau caught off guard (even with the screaming girl and her fire-bright eyes). And when Olau needs to be ruthless, they are ruthless. Otherwise Xanatos might be dead by now.

Or rather, Olau would be dead by now.

Xanatos watches Olau now. Imagines that his bodyguard’s gaze is steady, unwavering behind that mask. Even sitting they only reach Xanatos’ shoulder.

The Ubese’s words are almost hesitant when they speak. “If…you wish truly to spar, my Lord Xanatos.” They give a slight incline of their head, and Xanatos can barely restrain a quirk of his lips.

Olau can hardly refuse Xanatos. He knows this well.

Anyone who wishes to stay in Xanatos’ employ and keep their head must obey him.

Xanatos does not deny himself the pleasure in that knowledge.

-:-

It only takes a little while to reach Xanatos’ household. It huddles on the edge of a great cliff, leaving the grounds to sprawl out and down the mountainside. Great towering walls protect its vulnerable edge while the cliff does the rest. A lone spire juts into the sky above the hulking mass. Xanatos’ home crouches on the ledge like its ready to spring. Ominous. Foreboding. But the gardens are quite lovely in the sun. This is house he inherited from his father.

As soon as they land, Xanatos heads to the little sparring arena that falls open into one of the courtyards looking out over the gardens. It is a wide room not unlike the dojos in the Jedi Temple. Mats line the floor and give way to the wood and stone of the verandah that curves along one edge of the stone courtyard. Plants curl along the walls of the enclosed square and a rose-covered archway leads further out into the gardens.

Xanatos prefers his spars out here rather than in the stifling rooms somewhere in the heart of his home. This is less oppressing. Lets him breathe in a way he can’t inside the stone walls that were once his father’s.

He strips out of his long, dark coat and shirt tails. Before he drops the garments, he digs a leather band out of one coat pocket. He leaves the clothing in a heap at the edge of the room and sweeps his dark curls back to tie it in one long nerf-tail. He toes off his boots and kicks them aside. Then he leans to the side to begin some joint-cracking stretches that ease the tension from his muscles.

Across from him Olau has divested themselves of their cloak and carefully laid all but one blaster down on the tattered fabric. They leave on their boots, and their belt is heavy with their pouches and single blaster.

Xanatos leaves his own lightsaber on his belt.

They may be in Xanatos’ private home but that does not mean that they should throw all caution to the side.

Olau rolls their neck, then drops low to sit back on one heel and extend one leg. They bend heavy over their knee as Xanatos watches. They are incredibly flexible. But Xanatos already knows that. He has seen them in action plenty of times before.

They stretch for several minutes more, carefully working each joint, warming up each muscle. Then Xanatos rolls up from one low sweep and stands at his full height. Spreads his feet wide. Plants himself steady and raises his arms.

Olau has already noticed the change and crouches low, legs widespread, balanced on the balls on their feet.

“Hand to hand?” Xanatos queries. It’s more of a statement than anything else.

Olau gives a shallow nod. “No weapons,” they rasp.

There is a moment of stillness.

Xanatos leaps, leg sweeping in a heavy arch towards Olau’s head. Olau tilts and plants a hand on the ground, then flips to the side, teetering on one arm as they spin and land in another crouch. Xanatos rushes forward again and goes in for a two palm strike. But Olau is there to meet it with their own arms, deflecting the blow and returning it in kind with a quick and brutal punch aimed at the solar plexus.

Xanatos is quick to parry and catch hold of the wrist. He crouches low and, as he twists around, grasps the underneath of Olau’s upper arm to toss them up and over his shoulder. Olau is so very light, even with that helmet, and swings easily over.

But Olau manages to seize hold of Xanatos’ nerf tail and wrenches it. Xanatos ends up flat on his face, forehead already bruising, as Olau lands hard on their heels, shoulder bones jarring against the ground. Xanatos gives Olau’s arm a vicious twist which forces a grunt from Olau’s lips. Olau reaches up and yanks the hand on their upper arm off, plants their free hand on the ground, and vaults over Xanatos’ shoulder once again, planting their feet in the middle of his back. This forces the air out of Xanatos’ lungs and his grip to loosen enough that Olau can break free.

Olau jumps back just as Xanatos rolls over and swings his leg up to catch Olau off guard. Olau is too far away and his foot meets air. The heels of his hands dig into the ground and he surges upwards. His spine throbs and he fights to control his breathing after the kick to his back. Olau holds their wrist at an odd angle. If Xanatos had not been intimately familiar with how Olau holds themself (Xanatos thinks he might watch Olau a little too much for his own good), then he might not have noticed it. But as it is, he does. Olau’s right wrist is held gingerly against their side.

Xanatos lets a feral grin worm its way onto his face.

He rushes forward again, and swipes at Olau’s throat, aims a punch to their face.

For the rest of their spar, Olau continues to dodge and duck and roll and parry with their own quick, precise strikes. Xanatos earns a bone-bruise to his thigh, Olau a blow to the temple. Both of them leap and crouch and twist.

Xanatos finds himself admiring Olau’s form. Not their body, mind you, though Xanatos would certainly like to know what Olau looks like— but the nature of their movements, the way they hold their body. Sometimes the way they plant their feet and sway, sweeping one arm up and the other to the side, reminds Xanatos of Soresu. Sometimes it is Ataru that colours the way they flip and spin.

But Olau’s fighting style is such a mishmash of so many different things— some Xanatos can’t even name— like the lift in their shoulders, the way their feet glide across the ground in great sweeps, the slight shifts in their body that seems to call for softer ground, a constant need to shift your balance.

Sometimes he thinks he sees just want he wants to see, what he longs to see, in Olau. Nostalgia is a dangerous thing, especially for someone like Xanatos.

Xanatos finds himself wondering about Olau more often than not.

The duel ends with the side of Xanatos’ hand poised at Olau’s exposed throat, and Olau’s fingers digging into the softness of his belly. They still, breathing hard. Xanatos feels sweat running down the curve of his spine. His hair sticks to his hot neck, curls flat against his temple, tickling his ear. His body aches in a good way. Something born of exhilaration and exertion.

Xanatos hasn’t had a proper spar with anyone in a very long time.

A huff of breath escapes his lips, and he lowers his arm and steps back. Olau is prompt to do the same. Then, without any preamble, Xanatos clasps his hands together and bows. It isn’t low. He would never do that. But it is a respectful tilt of his head and lean of his torso. He glances up to see Olau stock still. Then with a start, the Ubese jerks and bows in return.

Xanatos could swear shock was radiating from the small creature in waves.

“I was right to hire you, Olau.” There is nothing but amusement in his voice. Well, maybe some respect, as well. “Let’s do this again sometime.” He turns on his heel and makes his way over to the pile of his clothing. He pauses for a moment as he picks up his coat and his shirt in one hand, his boots with his other. He calls over his shoulder:

“I will be in my rooms for the rest of the night. Make sure you ask the staff for some bacta. We’re headed out in the morning and we need to be ready.”

There it was. That “we” again. He shakes his head. Maybe in time it really will be a “we”. For now, he can only wait and watch and when the time is right…

“Good night, Olau.”

As Xanatos strides out of the room, feet still bare against the coolness of the floor, he just barely hears the quiet rasp behind him.

“Good night, Xanatos.”

Olau’s voice is almost unsure. It resounds about the courtyard, in somewhere deep between Xanatos’ ribs.

He feels unsettled, and doesn’t deign to acknowledge that he heard, but there it seems as if a weight has been lifted from his shoulders. The walk to his rooms in long, as it always is. The hallways are dark and cold and by the time he reaches his door his toes are numb and no longer slick with sweat. He drops everything by the front door— a servant will pick everything up eventually— and makes his way to the ‘fresher to apply some bacta to his bruises and to take a long, hot shower.

But when he looks in the mirror above his sink, hands poised to rub bacta into his swollen forehead, he is startled to see something that— well, he hardly remembers ever seeing on his face.

A huge, boyish smile is curled along his flushed cheeks. His eyes are bright in a way that makes him ache for years long gone by. He stares. Tries to frown, but the motion hurts and when he tries to apply the bacta in order to distract himself, he glances back only to see his lips curved pleasantly across his cheeks.

That’s not right, he thinks.

But he finds himself helplessly smiling for the rest of the night, and there is a warmth in his heart that he can’t explain.

-:-

“Word of Xanatos, we have.”

Qui-Gon’s spine is rigid, his face frozen. Something had felt off in the Force this morning. Anticipatory. He had had more tea than usual with his morning meal in an effort to calm his nerves. It hadn’t helped much. By the time he had gotten Summons from the Council, he had felt wound as tight as a spring. It had been some relief to see Feemor waiting at the entrance to the Council chambers.

“Do you know…?” Feemor had begun.

Qui-Gon had only shaken his head. They had entered to find the Council in full attendance, trepidation painting their faces. Qui-Gon was used to irritation humming in the room when the Council had to deal with him— when he had to deal with them.

But then Yoda had opened his mouth, and Qui-Gon understood immediately.

Feemor moves closer, a line of warmth and solidarity against his side. He is so very thankful that they reconciled. More than anything.

“You—” his voice croaks and he has to clear his throat. Start again. “You have?”

The set of Yoda’s face is grim. “An anonymous report, there has been. Whispers of his name, connected to the The Offworld Mining Corporation, there are. Kept an eye on this company, we have, for we are troubled. The Offworld Mining Corporation risen quickly, it has. Concerns, some Senators have, about assassinations of prominent figures, and the influence it begins to gather. Troubling reports, there are, of planets that have welcomed the operations of this company. Like to send you on a reconnaissance, we would. To determine the validity of these reports.” His eyes bore into Qui-Gon.

“If Xanatos indeed is connected to this company, some undue power he may have used to further along their business.” Yoda lets out a deep sigh. “Reported his death, you did, Qui-Gon. Came back, you did, with darkness in your eyes, and a heavy heart. Ask you again, I will. What happened to Xanatos when last you saw him?”

Qui-Gon does not speak for a long while. It is true that he had told the Council that Xanatos had died on Telos IV, because in a way he had. The boy Qui-Gon had found and raised was not the same boy who had screamed at him. The same boy who had picked up his treacherous father’s ring and pressed the burning metal to his own flesh. That young boy who had laughed free and open, who had sprawled across their couch in such a careless way, who had teased Qui-Gon for his wretched cooking—

That was not the same boy who had threatened to kill him for what he had done.

“I…” Qui-Gon cannot find any words that will not cause him a grief too much to bear.

Mace’s face is dark and brooding beside Yoda. He would look almost furious if not for the fact that a good Jedi releases their emotions into the Force. Qui-Gon has teased Mace for his temper ever since they were younglings in the crèche. Qui-Gon dreads after the meeting, when he knows Mace will seek him out. Demand an explanation. Qui-Gon tells Mace many things, but what happened with Xanatos is not one of them. Qui-gon has never told anyone. Not even Feemor.

Abruptly, Kenobi’s pale face swims in his mind’s eye. Words from so long ago echo in his ears.

“It was never your fault. Some things— some things are just out of your control. You are a good man. Any padawan would be lucky to have you. Please. Just. It was never your fault. So please stop thinking that it is.”

Qui-Gon lets out a shaky breath.

“You are the best Master anyone could ask for.”

Had the Initiate known…?

Yoda’s rough voice breaks into his thoughts. “Speak of this later, we will. Much to say, I think you have.” His Grandmaster’s gaze has never been so accusatory. Qui-Gon immediately feels like an errant Padawan again, getting caught shirking class while his too-cold Master was away.

He ducks his head. “Yes, Master Yoda.”

“Leave in the morning, you will,” the Grandmaster continues. “Receive data files, you and Knight Aylward will. Review these. Help, they might.” Yoda leans forward, intent. “Putting you both on this mission, we are, because trust you, we do. Know Xanatos, you do, more than any other, and balance you out, Knight Aylward does.”

Feemor inclines his head, pleased embarrassment tinged above the concern that Qui-Gon feels tingle against his skin.

The Grandmaster settles back in his chair. He seems so weary. “Difficult, this will be, if true the rumours are. The Force will guide you. Block yourself from it, you must not. And do not let your feelings consume you, my Grandpadawan.”  

Feemor shifts closer. Qui-Gon just wants to escape. His voice is faint when he says,

“Yes, Master.”

He will try. By the Force he will.

He must.

Chapter Text

Fire blazes around him. Stifling. Overwhelming. He can hardly think, hardly breathe through the smoke he chokes on. They’re down there below him down those steps he knows he’ll trip on dear Force they’re down there please no—

“Xanatos!”

The cry is his father’s. Demanding. Pleading. “Xanatos, help me!”

The Twi-lek girl, Tahl’s new apprentice (who Qui-Gon likes who is going to replace him no he can’t let that happen no she just got assigned to Tahl and Qui-Gon already likes her who does she think she is Xanatos has worked so hard for his Master’s approval), she wields her bright blue lightsaber that matches her skin so well— but his father is older, taller, stronger, he has so much more experience—

“Come to your senses, my son!”

—where is Qui-Gon he always knows what to do please where is his Master he’ll make it right stop this madness

“Xanatos, think of your family!”

 —the Twi’lek girl is pushed back with a cry—

“They are trying to undo everything I’ve fought for!”

—she stumbles, barely manages to raise her ‘sabre to block the next blow—

“Think of your mother!”

(she died before he could remember more than the soft, dark fall of her hair)

—the next swing has the Twi’lek on her knees—

“Your sister!”

(his sister is dead he saw her die he saw her stumble and fall with her belly bleeding redredred)

—his father raises his sword—

“NO!”

—and Qui-Gon is suddenly there, forcing himself between the young Twi’lek padawan and Xanatos’ father and he spins his ‘sabre and his father’s arm is flying through the air as high as his scream whose scream he doesn’t know what’s happening anymore—

no

please n—

Qui-Gon plants his foot square in Xanatos’ father’s stomach and shoves

Shoves him back into the fire. Back into the heat and the coals and his father is screaming and burning and flailing and oh Force

this can’t be happening

The screams are echoing and gargling and even from up here Xanatos can smell roasting flesh because it rises with the smoke that chokes and

and he is rushing stumbling down those steps crying

“Father!”

and he’s gagging and has to swallow to stop the vomit but now he’s just swallowing smoke and that smell and now he’s on his knees by the fire and his knees throb and his joints jarred and he’s not really sure why but his father isn’t making any sound now except for the crackling of popping flesh and sizzling flame and sparks dance bright before his aching eyes

“Xanatos… I— I am so sorry.”

there is a faint sobbing behind him and a faint, “Master Qui-Gon I’m sorry I wasn’t strong enough and you had to—”

“Hush child, it is all right.”

There is a snarl on his lips and its stretches tightly across his cheeks.

His eyes burn.

“‘All right’?”

His breath is a hiss.

A harsh laugh bursts from his lips.

“I was right to listen to my father.”

His tongue is a lashing whip in the arid desert of his mouth.

“Xanatos, please, I—”

A glint catches his eye, unnatural in the flames that singe his hair. He reaches out a hand and, uncaring, dips it into the flames. It’s like there are layers to him. A layer for each pain, each disbelief, each betrayal, each death that eats away at him and claws its way into the cage of his ribs to strangle his fast beating heart. He smells his flesh burn. It is nothing to the stench of his father’s.

When his hand retracts from the flames there is a severed arm in his grasp. The arm that arched so high in the air. He clutches the fingers that were once his father’s like a child. He drags the smoldering arm into his lap and cannot look away from the gleaming ring. It is bright hot, like a pulsing, dying star, and there is a blazing crack in it where it is nestled against the knuckle.

My Master’s ‘sabre must have caught it, he thinks. It’s broken, everything’s broken and now—

“I should never have been taken from here. From my home. I should never have gone with you.”

He grasps the ring and drags it up along the limp finger.

“I was never wanted. My peers hated me. Even my Great-Grandmaster didn’t want to see me become a knight. Dooku thought you made a mistake. I constantly had to fight to win your approval, to make you want me and keep me.”

The ring dangles between his fingertips, melting the pads smooth. An inexplicable urge floods through the numbness of his brain.

“Why should I base my self-worth on you, on an Order that is weak and self-righteous? On an Order that can’t even save anyone?”

“Xani, please—

“DON’T CALL ME BY THAT NAME IT IS NOT YOUR RIGHT!”

Rage boils over, trembles, quakes within him. The fire whorls about him and he presses the ring harsh to his cheek where his tears scald his face.

It burns like nothing else he’s ever felt.

When he turns to face his now former Master for the last time, he is not himself. Or rather, he has been reborn. He now knows, he knows

“I will kill you for what you have done, Qui-Gon Jinn.”

Love is not worth this hurt.

“…atos? My Lord? Xanatos? Xanatos!”

He wakes with a start, tears wet on his cheeks and hair plastered to his throat. Sheets are tangled about his legs. His chest is heaving and he has already called his ‘sabre to his hand. It lies cool and unlit in his sweaty palm. The shadowed ceiling above him is streaked in bright bands of morning sunlight, and the deep burgundy drapes that shelter his bedroom from the sun are partially open, practically glowing with warmth.

He takes a few moments to calm his breath. Focuses on rays of sun and breathes in, breathes out. Breathes in. Out.

(in these moments he doesn’t care that he uses techniques taught to him by his old Master)

(in these moments he hardly cares about anything at all)

(nothing but slowing his breath and feeling like he’s in control again)

(he’s in control he is he is he just needs to take another breath and another and another)

(—another—)

“Xanatos?”

The voice is familiar. Raspy. Breaks him out of his spiraling thoughts. Grounds him.

“Olau,” he croaks. He works to get one elbow beneath him, props himself up, curls his free arm so his lightsaber lays protectively in his lap. Olau is a few feet from the bed, just out of reach if he ignites the hilt clenched in his fist.

There is a tension that practically vibrates the Ubese’s limbs. They’re perched on the balls of their feet. One hand rests on a blaster, the other hovers a bit away from their side, as if they had almost reached out. Almost—

Olau has woken Xanatos from his nightmares, his memories, before. Olau’s room in adjacent to Xanatos’ so that they can come in at any point Xanatos needs them, and they’re always here in the mornings to prepare for the day. This is nothing new.

It still shakes Xanatos to the core, though. No one has seen him this vulnerable since— well… For a very long time. Admittedly, he’s never had a bodyguard before Olau. Olau’s position was appointed in a moment of intense curiosity. It had been something he’d needed to adjust to, letting someone into his life like that after…

His jaw tightens. His knuckles go white around his ‘sabre. He’s a damn fool for letting anyone see him like this. If Olau- if they- if they ever—

He almost chokes on his rage. Despair and desperation threaten to overwhelm. It’s like a noose about his throat and he can hardly breathe and suddenly it’s like there’s flame licking at his hands his feet and his cheek is scorching hot there’s smoke in his lungs he can’t

“Xanatos.”

There is a cool, steady touch at his elbow. Another along the back of his hand. Slides down to his fingers. Curls. Gentle.

“You’ll hurt yourself.”

Gentle like that raspy voice.

Xanatos lets out a choking gasp. Gulps in a breath. Another. Breathes out fast, sucks air in.

Added weight dips the mattress. A hand carefully pries his own from his ‘sabre, one finger at a time. Another has moved to rest between his jutting shoulder blades. Rubs smooth circles into his back and down along his spine. He stares at the hand atop his. It’s so tiny. Dwarfed by his own pale fingers and wide palm. Leather glides against his overheated skin, so cool. Olau is a gentle press against his side.

“Take steady breaths. Do you feel my breath? Breathe with me. In, out. In, out. That’s it. In…”

Olau has lain the ‘sabre to the side. It rests, gleaming in the morning light.

Olau has never done this before.

When Xanatos becomes completely aware of himself (and it is a slow process indeed, full of carefully timed breaths, focused on the rising and falling of the breast beside his own), he is practically cradled in Olau’s arms. He almost laughs, thinking of his bulk held so tenderly by someone so small.

He thinks of his sister. Of the way they laughed together only hours before her death. Of the way her tiny, delicate hands cradled his.

“You will always be my brother,” she had said. “And I will always love you, no matter what you choose. No matter what path you may take. Remember that, my dear brother. Remember.”

He hardly lets himself think of his sister anymore. It’s far too painful.

But Olau brings forth the oddest things from deep within his broken heart.

It is a few minutes more before Xanatos is able to extract himself. When he pulls away, joints creaking, his limbs feel far more gangly than they actually are. His cheeks are sore, his eyes crusted. A hand hovers at his shoulder for a moment more before Olau pulls back, rising to their feet. They hover close instead of retreating a respectful distance away.

Xanatos stares at the sheets in his lap, mortification spreading fire down his chest, burning his ears. He hides his face with one quavering hand.

“I- I don’t…Do not speak of this to anyone,” he chokes out, voice cracking. His hair falls in dark tangles about his too-pale face. He refuses to look at Olau. Not when he cannot see their face. Not when they can see his.

There is tense silence in which the only sound is Xanatos’ heavy breaths.

“I will not.”

There is so much reassurance in these Ubese’s voice Xanatos could cry again.

Then:

“I have my fair share of nightmares, too. They are nothing to be ashamed of.”

This is quite possibly the first time Olau has ever volunteered information about themselves.

Xanatos’ head jerks up, eyes wide, hand falling to his lap, forgotten. There are great smudges beneath his dark blue eyes. He wishes more than ever that he could see Olau’s face. Read their expression. See the empathy there he so longs for. As it is, he can only read into the way they hold their limbs, the way they stand evenly on each foot. There is almost a vulnerability to their stance. He can’t quite put a finger on it.

Olau tilts their head forward. “If there is nothing else, I will check on the staff and see that everything is in order for our trip.”

‘Our.’

The word fills Xanatos with a kind of childish joy that spikes along his spine and clogs his throat.

Olau turns to leave, but words are spilling from Xanatos’ lips into the empty space between them before he can stop.

“What do you dream about?”

The Ubese pauses, half turned. The edge of their helmet peaks over their shoulder. “Would you answer that question if it was asked of you?”

Shame floods through him. He has to stare back down at his hands, now, laying listlessly in his lap. He doesn’t really know why. He shouldn’t feel shame for simple curiousity, and yet… As Olau turns once again to leave, Xanatos blurts:

“My sister!”

Olau freezes.

Xanatos’ shoulders are drawn up about his ears. “I dream of my sister. My father. They were killed before I could— I couldn’t.” The words are tumbling and there’s no way to stop. “I was too weak, too foolish.” He bites his lip, snarl ready to break open, his brows are already in a painful furrow. “I thought I knew what I wanted. I— I was betrayed. I thought— I thought he cared, that he— but I was wrong. I won’t be wrong again.” There is, perhaps, a hopeless certainty in his voice. Angry tears sting his eyes.

Silence.

“My brother.”

Xanatos looks up. The sun glints off Olau’s helm. Their feet are in shadow, their shoulders narrow and limned gold.

When he speaks again, his words are hushed. Drawn out. Desperate, almost, though he’d never admit it.

“Was he taken from you, too?”

Olau’s helmet tips.

“Yes…” Their voice is so sad. So weary and vulnerable. It makes Xanatos’ heart ache in a way it hasn’t for another in a long, long time. “Yes, in a way.”

(‘long, long times’ are beginning to be associated with Olau, more often than not)

(it is more than terrifying)

With that, Olau leaves, footsteps quiet on the cold, stone floor.

Xanatos is left half-curled on his bed, sheets a mess about him. Sunlight creeps along his covers to warm his pale shins.

He realizes that he never thanked Olau.

It is a curious feeling. This regret.

-:-

“How could you not tell me?!”

At least he attempted a whisper, Qui-Gon thinks. Pity it didn’t last long, though.

They’re standing in the hallway outside of the Council Chambers. Qui-Gon had not retreated fast enough before Mace had caught up with him, fuming and surly. Feemor stands an awkward few feet away, clearly fretting but too intimidated by Mace to step in. At least until there is not a roiling cloud of Force energy about the man. Qui-Gon honestly does not blame his former apprentice. If he could help it he wouldn’t want to face his friend, either. Not in this mood.

“What if he’s gone to the Dark Side, Qui-Gon?! Have you thought about that?! We told you he wasn’t ready! We warned you—”

At that, fury surges in Qui-Gon’s chest. “The Council assigned us that mission! They knew full well what they were asking of him when they did so! Even you approved when you heard, Mace!”

Mace scoffs. It is an ugly thing on his dark face. “That is the purpose of the trials, Qui-Gon. Or have you forgotten already? Has it been so long for you?” He steps in close, almost nose to nose. “I remember.”

Qui-Gon does remember.

He does not like to, but he does remember.

“What if it had been Depa?” Qui-Gon’s voice is a bare whisper, but harsh and rasping.

Mace jerks back, as if struck. “That has nothing to do with—”

Qui-Gon steps in closer, mirroring Mace’s earlier movements. “I know full well what you would have done, Jedi Master of the High Council.”

Mace has to look away. He knows, too. He stays silent for several long moments, throat working. Frown a deep crevice in his face. When he speaks it is like he is trying to convince himself for the thousandth time. “This is why attachments are forbidden.”

Qui-Gon lets out a deprecating laugh. Too raw. “You know as well as I do how impossible that is, even if you deny it.” He studies the wrinkles that are already beginning to crease Mace’s cheeks. His voice is softer when he continues, “Xani was like a son to me, Mace. As Depa is like a daughter to you.”

His lips turn up into a fond, faraway smile. “Xani was not so very different from you when you were younger, Mace. I think you forget that. You aren't that far apart in age, or has being on the Council bloated your head a bit too much?”

Mace scowls, expression easing into more annoyance than anger. “I actively try to forget. And I do not appreciate it when you bring it up, Qui-Gon.”

Qui-Gon laughs again, a little easier this time. “How can I not tease my old teammate? I saw you grow from a volatile Initiate to a sullen Padawan to an easily flustered Knight. It delights me to the see the same man who floundered his way through mud with me in a jungle, cursing up a storm, now sitting on the High Council with such serene people like Rancisis and Tiin. ”

Mace gives him a sour look. “As a Master of the Jedi Council—”

“—you deserve far more teasing than the rest,” Qui-Gon finishes. His smile is playful this time, and Mace just looks weary. Their friendship is many years old, and there are many years of it yet to come.

Mace sighs heavily. “I’d appreciate it if you told me next time, Qui-Gon.”

Qui-Gon’s face immediately sobers. “There won’t be a next time, Mace.”

Mace doesn’t say anything to that.

Feemor stands a few feet away, awash in the warmth of the late afternoon sun. He watches the slump of his old Master’s shoulders, at the limp fall of his hair. There are shadows beneath his dear friend’s eyes. A downturn of his lip that has no place on his genial face.

Feemor frowns.

-:-

Reeft has had another vision, Bant knows. She knows this as well as she knows the creases in her friend’s young face. As well as the grip of Garen’s fingers. The bright sounds of Obi-Wan’s laugh.

These are things she’ll never allow herself to forget.

She rushes down the hallways of the Temple, trying to make it seem as if she isn’t rushing at all. She folds her fidgety hands within her wide sleeves and picks up her feet, tamping down her Force signature so it is as calm as any young padawan’s can be.

It takes far too long for her to reach the Room of a Thousand Fountains, but when she does the sounds of rushing water and the clean scent of old trees immediately calms her. Just within the entrance she takes a moment to pause, close her eyes, breathe deep.

Her footsteps are slower, but no less determined, when she continues into the gigantic greenhouse. She knows where she’s going. They always meet deep in the tangle of trees and vines, right by a calm little pool that only catches the occasional glimmer of the sun. They stumbled upon it when they were still tiny younglings in the crèche. Whenever she’s gone back since, she’s only ever felt the residues of her friends’ Force signatures, never anyone else’s. It feels like the safest place in the Temple. Just theirs. It is the only place where Obi-Wan’s memory isn’t tainted. The only place where, when she closes her eyes and stills everything within herself (makes herself so quiet she hardly thinks she exists as anything but the Force itself (which is in all things), she thinks she can still feel the gentle warmth of his Force presence. Can still feel his hand in hers, his breathy laughter on her cheek.

It takes only a few more minutes of expertly weaving between branches and avoiding bulging roots to reach their little shelter. She only saw a few others upon her entrance to the grand room (which is really more its own tiny world than anything else). Now, within the thick of the trees, steps occasionally disturbing the streams of water twisting between far-reaching roots, she sees no one. She feels Reeft’s distress long before she sees his wrinkled peach skin.

He’s curled against the base of an old, slouching tree that’s thick at the base, its roots spreading out into the surrounding forest and creeping over the edges of the little pool like it needs to cool its feet. It’s tiny compared to the rest of the forest, and sweeps upwards only a little bit above Bant’s head before slumping over to make a leafy ceiling above them. Branches droop and curl along the ground, a few gangly ends trail leaves in the clear water.

When Obi-Wan had first seen it he’d stared at it in an awe they’d all shared. A calming presence exudes from the gnarly old tree and it is partly why they’d chosen to essentially make it their secret base.

But then Obi-Wan’s face had twisted and turned bright red and he’d burst into laughter.

“It looks like Old Master Yoda…!” he’d cackled.

This is the reason why Bant has always come back to this tree, even after Obi-Wan disappeared. Especially then.

She steps closer, slow. As she walks she stoops to unzip one boot, grasp the heel, and pull it off. Then the other. Each one drops to the ground to stay until she decides to leave this sanctuary. She feels some tension slip away as she spreads her webbed toes in the soft, cool grass. She’s always felt more comfortable barefoot.

Reeft’s face is hidden in his knees, his shaking arms drawn up about his head. A forgotten comm lays in the grass by his side. Bant kneels. Places a hand on his shoulder.

“You’ve called Garen?” Her voice is soft. She understands about as much as anyone can.

Reeft jerkily nods his head, but doesn’t look up at her. He only curls even more in on himself.

She squeezes his shoulder and settles in next to him to lean up against his side. “What was it this time?”

Reeft is so new to these visions. And even though Bant’s are dark, they don’t terrify her as much as Reeft’s seem to do.

Reeft takes a few shaky breaths before he speaks, voice muffled. “There were— was. A red lightsaber. It- I don’t—” He whimpers. “There was so much anger and hate and I didn’t know what to do.”

Bant has seen red lightsabers in her visions before. She’s felt that anger and hate. She lets a hand trail over her friend’s bald head and lets him continue.

He takes a few more steadying breaths. “I saw Obi-Wan.”

Her hand freezes.

“What?”

But it’s not her talking. It’s Garen. He’s standing behind her, hair a mess, looking disheveled. There’s a leaking paper bag clutched in his hand that smells strongly of food and there’s a lightsaber burn on his tunic like he’d rushed here right after practice, not bothering to change.

Garen is almost instantly by Reeft’s other side, forgetting about the food in his hand as he grips their friend’s shoulder tight. “What did you see?”

Only then does Reeft look up. The three of them are as close as any padawans can possibly be, but there’s a connection between Reeft and Garen that Bant simply doesn’t have. She loves them. By the Force she does. And they love her. And yet. Garen can just get Reeft to open up the way no one else can. Reeft can make Garen pause, take a deep breath and step back to look at the situation again. Bant may be the one that leads them most of the time, but she in no way is the one who most influences either of them. They just have a different friendship with each other than they have with her.

Just as she did with Obi-Wan.

Reeft’s eyes are puffy and red. He stares up at Garen’s stricken face like it’s the only hope he has left. “I saw Obi-Wan. And- and he was our age.”

Bant’s breath leaves her. So rarely do their visions show Obi-Wan’s proper age. It’s always when he’s older, old, and older still. Hardly ever twelve. Once she saw him toddle along the hallways of the Temple. Smile wide, front teeth missing. But that might have been a memory. Nothing more.

Memories bleed into visions and visions bleed into her daily life. Sometimes when she lifts a spoon to her lips she’ll see Obi-Wan clutching at his throat, teacup shattered on the floor, liquid spilling from his lips into his beard. During practice she’ll raise her ‘sabre to block her Master’s thrust and see the brutal blow to someone’s chin, the crimson of a double bladed ‘sabre bleeding into the crimson of blood. Nowadays, she never knows if her dreams are simply dreams or something else entirely.

She knows this is why her Master worries about her. Why her Master’s lips pull into a harsh frown at the mention of Obi-Wan when Bant only feels an overwhelming love and worry for her friend. Bant understands that Tahl has never met Obi. Has never seen the kindness in his eyes and the mischievous curl of his lips. She understands. Nevertheless, she wishes her Master understood her, as well.

Garen moves in closer, if that is even possible. He hugs Reeft with one arm and takes one hand in his, clutching it tight. “What did you see, Reeft?”

Reeft takes a few breaths. He glances at Bant, brow more wrinkled than usual. “There was an abandoned city. A Temple, I think… Obi-Wan was…he was hurt. Sprawled on the ground. He looked, startled. I don’t know. But there was this red lightsaber. It was a-above him and I—” He chokes on his tears and buries his face in his arms once again.

“I think he was going to die, Bant…! I’m sorry, I think, I think…” Broken sobs wrack his shoulders.

Bant’s mind races. She’s seen Obi-Wan on the verge of death so many times before in her visions. But Reeft’s are different than hers. Late at night when Reeft wakes from his nightmares and can’t sleep, she finds him here. They never speak. She simply curls up next to him, takes his hand, and opens her mind to his so he won’t have to carry the burden all on his own.

His visions are saturated with uncertainty while hers have a certain truth to them that she wants to deny, but can’t.

But if Reeft is seeing something that might happen soon, that may have already— With a violent shake of her head she shakes away that thought. She’d know if Obi-Wan is dead. She would.

“Was there anything else in the vision? Anything at all? You said there was a city…” She’s thinking as quick as she can, going over a list of Temples all initiates have to memorize. “Did you see anyone else? Hear anything?”

Reeft hiccups and sniffs. Garen silently wipes Reeft’s dripping nose with his sleeve. “I don’t know, I—”

Bant holds out a hand. “Do you want to…?”

Reeft jerks back. “No! I don’t, I don’t want you to see it, Bant…” His eyes are wide, pleading.

Frustration burns Bant’s eyes. “We’ll have to if you can’t remember anything else. Obi-Wan might be in trouble.”

Reeft screws his eyes shut, jaw clenched. Bant feels the Force settle more calmly about him, like he’s trying to focus all his energy on remembering every excruciating detail.

“I…” He frowns, confused. “There’s a broken lightsaber at Obi-Wan’s feet. I can see the crystal. It’s, it’s blue and it pulses but it doesn’t…” His frown deepens. “I think I hear someone…Crion? Fee…something. They don’t sound very…” he grimaces, “…pleased. But—” His eyes light up in realization. “They sound familiar. Whoever’s talking. I think I’ve heard their voice before.”

Bant sits back on her heels and closes her wide-set eyes. She rubs her chin in thought. Crion? Fee? Someone’s there that Reeft knows. But that could be so many people…

“What did their voice sound like?”

Reeft gives a helpless shrug. “I don’t know, I…male?”

“Reeft, please.”

“He’s doing his best,” Garen cuts in, voice sharp.

A heavy sigh leaves her. “I’m sorry, Reeft it’s just…”

“We know,” Garen continues. She opens her eyes and his gaze is sharp, aggrieved. “We’re his friends, too.”

Shame fills her chest. She knows this. She does. But Obi-Wan had been special. Like Garen and Reeft are to each other. “I know.” Her voice is pained. “I’m sorry.”

Reeft shakes his head, and won’t meet her eyes for a few moments. “I am, too.” But then he meets her gaze and there’s only empathy there. “I know it can be harder for you, what with your Master…” He pauses, mouth still open.

“Wait.”

Bant and Garen stare as Reeft breathes out, “Master Jinn. It was Master Jinn’s voice.”

Bant’s heart stutters.

Master Tahl had been telling her just before she came to meet Reeft that Master Jinn and Knight Aylward would be gone for a few weeks on a mission. She’d been worried, chewing her lip. Her eyes had been dark in a different way than Bant was used to. They were going to be leaving soon. That night. Possibly the next morning.

Bant surges to her feet.

Feemor. It had to have been Knight Aylward’s name. Master Jinn had to have been calling to him. And Crion? She knows she’s heard that name before. She just doesn’t know where.

“I have to go.” The words leave her in a rush as she stumbles towards her fallen boots.

“Wait, do you know what Reeft was talking about?!”

Bant tugs on her boots, struggles with the zippers, ends up leaving them half undone. “Yes,” she calls over her shoulder. “Master Jinn and Knight Aylward are about to leave on a mission!” She tumbles into the forest. “They might be able to do something…!”

She leaves them to find her Master or Jinn or somebody. She has to tell someone. Has to save her friend.

Garen and Reeft are left staring after her, shaken, blind to everything but their reeling emotions.

Somewhere just beyond the clearing, Bruck Chun leans back up against a great trunk. He stares at his boots, mind whirling.

Off-kilter.

His hair is a silvery, silken mess about his head as it always has been. There is no padawan braid tucked behind his ear. Just as there has never been.

His Naming day is in a few months.

His hands clench into fists.

He has to do something.

Chapter Text

Bandomeer has never been Xanatos’ favourite place. He will never admit it, but the sickness of the land and the despair of the people roils unpleasantly in his gut whenever he sets foot on the planet. He always tries to revel in it instead, soaking in the smog and the trembling of the ore beneath his feet. Tries to feed on the desecration of the planet like so many Sith before him has.

But Xanatos is not actually a Sith, despite the fact he’s drowned himself in the Dark, let it dig its claws into his soul and consume him bit by bit until he barely recognizes himself. He figures it is only right considering his history, his parentage, the way his former Master has betrayed him. He needs to leave his mark in the universe, and if this is the only way he can do so, then he will do it. It is hardly like he has any other path set before him. None that would give him any satisfaction, anyway.

Olau is by his shoulder, oddly tense. Xanatos glances at them from the corner of his eye. Perhaps Olau feels the planet’s death as he does. He would not put it past Olau. He wonders if Olau knows what the stink of death means. If Olau knows it will mean the planet will be barren before Xanatos’ life is over, devoid of people and life.

He feels a sick satisfaction that, in his own way, he can kill planets as surely as Darth Nihilus did once upon a time. He hums in thought as they stride across the landing platform. Perhaps an appropriate line of thought considering whom they are about to meet.

The sound of his footsteps practically bleeds into the rock beneath his boots. He wonders if, given time and the proper amount of injury and aggression, the planet will become a wound in the force. The curiousity curls dark about his thoughts, prickling and hungry.

Unease shudders through Olau’s presence in the Force. Perhaps he should have briefed Olau about their upcoming meeting before coming here. Perhaps warned them to better hide themself in the Force.

It would not due for an actual Sith to gain interest in his new bodyguard. Xanatos is not finished with the Ubese quite yet, and he does not want them snatched away from him before he sees what is under that helmet of theirs.

But something pulls at him, whispers in the far reaches of his mind that this is what must done. That this is a key to something Xanatos must know, whether he wants to or not.

The Force speaks so rarely with him nowadays that Xanatos cannot help but answer its call.

-:-

Qui-Gon heaves a sigh as he scans over the information on the screen yet again.

“This is worse than I thought,” he murmurs, raking a hand through his thick hair, fingers snagging on hidden knots. He sighs again and settles back into his chair, fighting the urge to rub at his temple.

“We will figure this out, Master.” Feemor’s soothing voice is a balm for Qui-Gon’s quivering soul. He feels shattered. Wrecked. Stretched beyond his limits.

“We have Offworld involved with illegal mining, with illegal trading, with the Hutts, with possible ties to slavery and assassination, and with UniFy which just so happens to control Telos IV through their gambling habit!” Qui-Gon’s voice is sharp and far too loud by the end. He tugs at the knots in his hair, trying to smooth them out. Anything to do with his hands that isn’t scrolling through pages and pages of information he doesn’t want to know.

“Master. Qui-Gon.” A hand settles over his own. He doesn’t know his hand is twitching sporadically atop the table until Feemor soothes his knuckles with calloused fingers.

Qui-Gon looks up from the datapad. Feemor’s eyes are kind. Far too kind. He leans across the table in Qui-Gon’s tiny kitchen, the light of the lamps flickering across his worried, sincere face. There is a reassurance there that calms Qui-Gon’s grief, his guilt, his swelling panic. Feemor’s presence could steady even the most tumultuous of souls.

“Qui-Gon. It will be all right. We will fix this somehow. You and me. We’re a team. You aren’t alone in this, Master.”

Qui-Gon huffs a weary laugh. Twisting his hand so the palm brushes against Feemor’s own, he grips his former padawan’s hand tight. He untangles his other hand from his hair to drag it down his face. “Oh, Feemor. What would I do without you?”

Feemor grips his hand tighter. A faint smile crooks his lips. “Starve, I should think.”

Genuine joy warms his withered soul, makes him feel just a bit lighter. “That is too true, Feemor. Your cooking is far better than any Temple food, not to mention my own.”

Feemor laughs, voice bright. “Let’s not mention your own. Ever again.”

Qui-Gon is helpless to stop the grin from spreading across his face. “Truly, Feemor. You somehow always know what to say.” Qui-Gon thanks whatever in the Force pushed him to seek out Feemor again after so many years. Nearly every day he berates himself for ever renouncing his former padawan. Feemor did not deserve it no matter how grief-stricken Qui-Gon was by Xanatos’ loss.

Feemor slides a hand up Qui-Gon’s own until he grips the older man’s wrist in such a deeply familial gesture it makes Qui-Gon ache. His eyes are a soothing, pale blue, like forget-me-nots. Soft, full of well-earned wisdom. “You seem to forget, as you usually do, that I know you better than most.”

Qui-Gon tilts his head in acknowledgment, smile deepening as affection warms the place in his mind where the force bond has begun to coalesce once again, even after so many years. It will never be a wholly deep one, Qui-Gon knows that. Too much has happened between them and such a bond is not needed any longer. But it is a soft bond shared between dear friends. Qui-Gon will never reject Feemor again if he can help it.

A frantic knocking breaks the moment.

Qui-Gon and Feemor hold each other’s gaze, confused, wary, for a moment before simultaneously rising to their feet and rushing for the door. Knocks that frantic are never a good sign.

When the entrance to Qui-Gon’s apartment slides open to reveal a young, panting Mon Calamari, eyes wild, it takes but a moment to place her. Qui-Gon could never forget Bant Eerin, not when she’s Tahl’s padawan and Obi-Wan Kenobi’s old friend.

She stares up at them, almost disbelieving, then straightens, words tumbling out of her mouth so fast Qui-Gon can barely understand her trembling words. “R-Reeft saw— Mas-Master Qui-Gon! He had a vision! H-he saw Obi-Wan! Please—! You have to…!” She doubles over coughing, gasping for breath as if she’s run the length of every Temple corridor. From the way she’s heaving, blinking wild-bright eyes, she might well have, Qui-Gon muses even as he fights to catch a breath himself. Any mention of the wayward initiate leaves him reeling.

Feemor, Force bless him, moves forward to rest a gentle hand on Eerin’s shoulder, rubbing soothing circles there. “Slow your breath,” he murmurs. “Focus on your heartbeat, focus on calming it…” He glances up at Qui-Gon, eyes then flicking to the kitchen.

Qui-Gon understands almost immediately. He hurries to the kitchen, listening as Feemor continues with his murmuring, guiding Eerin into the apartment, the door whisping closed behind them. Qui-Gon’s fingers are surprisingly steady as he retrieves a clean cup from the cupboards, fills a kettle with water and sets it on the heater to boil. He reaches into another cupboard for his most calming tea. It’s nearly gone, but he does not mind giving the rest to Tahl’s padawan. She clearly needs it.

By the time the water is heated and the tea steeped, Feemor has settled Eerin onto the sofa in the communal room, guiding her through an impromptu meditation. Feemor is cross-legged in front of her on the floor, one hand in his lap, the other on her left knee. They breathe together. The padawan has calmed, though her hands still twitch in a slithering anxiety Qui-Gon can so clearly feel in the Force. It twines about her form, like sickened vines, prickling the calm that Feemor is doing his best to coax into life.

Qui-Gon kneels beside her with the tea and lays a careful hand on her shoulder. Her eyes flutter open, a hint of wildness still in their silver depths. He offers the drink and she takes it gratefully, cupping it between unsteady, webbed hands. She holds it for a few moments, seeming to relish in the warmth before taking a few sips.

Feemor breathes deep, sends a pulse of calm through Eerin, then rises to settle on the sofa beside her, hand moving to become an anchor upon her other shoulder.

“Now, what is it you wanted to tell us, youngling?” Feemor’s voice is soft but steady, ready to calm her again if need be. Qui-Gon is grateful that his friend takes the lead, as he does not think he can. Not about Obi-Wan. Not with Eerin. Not with Xanatos’ shadow quivering at the edges of his eyes.

Eerin settles the cup in her lap, gripping it with such strength her fingers pale and look like bone rather than dappled, salmon skin. “Reeft. He-he had a vision. You know his aren’t like mine, right? They’re— they’re different somehow. More—” She lets out a frustrated breath, closes her eyes, opens them, starts again.

“Mine have an edge of truth to them. Like- like I’m seeing what has already happened even though I know I can’t have. Even though it shouldn’t have. Reeft’s— I think he’s seeing what could happen. Paths that open up with every choice we make. We’ve tried to make sense of them but it’s so difficult.” Her face scrunches up. Her hands tighten further.

“There’s practically no common connection between our visions. Except Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan is always always always at the centre. But we hardly ever see him at this age. At the age he should be. Except—” Her eyes are bright, hopeful, but stormy with devastation. “Except this time. This time Reeft saw him. Our age. Reeft— He thinks—” Her words wobble and she has to swallow hard, wet her mouth to say what she must say next.

“He says he thinks Obi-Wan was about to die.”

Something cold and hard twists talons into Qui-Gon’s gut, threatens to pull.

Feemor somehow remains steady. But maybe that’s because he never met Kenobi. “What else did he see, Bant?”

She breathes deep again, clearly fighting to remain calm. The Force roils about her, nearly frantic. “He says that there was an abandoned city. Maybe a Temple. He isn’t sure. He recognized your voice, Master Jinn.” She meets Qui-Gon’s eyes, far too imploring for his aching heart. “He heard a couple names, something that began with ‘Fee’, so I thought- I heard from my Master that you both are leaving on a mission so I thought—”

“That it might be us.” Qui-Gon’s words leave his lips in a rush of breath, an odd calm settling in his bones.

She nods too quickly, eyes wide. “Yes! And he said there was another name. Crion? I can’t place it but I know I’ve heard it.”

Qui-Gon feels numb. That calm has frozen into a numbness that bites at his lips. “Xanatos,” he croaks.

Eerin gives him a confused, slightly desperate look. “You- you know who it is?”

Qui-Gon cannot help but glance up at Feemor, whose gaze is solemn. “Yes,” he manages.

Feemor turns her attention back to himself, thankfully giving Qui-on a reprieve from the intensity of her gaze. “Was there anything else?”

“Obi-Wan was hurt. He had a blue lightsaber but- but it was broken. He was on the ground. Someone held a red lightsaber above him. Knight Aylward- Master Jinn— A red lightsaber. Who- who even has one of those anymore? There aren’t any more Sith! There shouldn’t be…!”

If anything, Qui-Gon goes even colder. Feemor seems to sense this, as he reaches a hand across Eerin to grip Qui-Gon’s limp hand tight. Qui-Gon focuses on that warmth radiating from his friend’s skin.

“There wasn’t anything else?” Feemor’s voice is firm. He radiates calm. It seems to help relax Eerin just the slightest.

The padawan is already shaking her head. “No- no I tried to get him to remember more, but- but he couldn’t.” She sounds a little bitter at this. Her lips pull in a frown. “He said you didn’t sound very happy.”

Qui-Gon lets out an incredulous laugh. “No, no I very much doubt I would be.”

Eerin turns her attention to him once again. “Master Jinn, what does it mean? I mean- you have to be seeing him soon, right? You have to help him! Who knows what he’s gotten himself into…!” She chokes on a sob.

Feemor pulls her close, letting go of Qui-Gon to rub her back and let her cry against him.

Qui-Gon sits back on his heels, mind awhirl.

“Have you told your Master any of this?” Feemor’s voice is unbearably kind.

Eerin shakes her head silently, tears leaking down her cheeks.

“You must have come straight here, then.”

She nods, grips Feemor’s shoulders tighter.

“We can’t tell you about our mission, Bant. You must know that.”

When she pushes back, ready to protest, Feemor puts his hand on her cheek. “But, know that we will do our best to look out for your friend. Force visions are strange, and no one can know everything there is to know about them. Not even Yoda.”

She purses her lips, clear frustration in her eyes.

“Bant. You were right to tell us what you learned from Reeft. It is good to know what may come to be, but Bant— It is a danger to think that we can change the future. In doing so we may end up creating the very future we wished to avoid.”

Eerin scoots back a bit, dislodging Feemor’s hands. “So you’d let him die?!”

Feemor shakes his head. “No, Bant. That is not it at all. The vision may help Kenobi, may help us help him. But we cannot become arrogant in thinking that we can prevent the worst. Everything will be as the Force wills it. We will do our best for Kenobi, and something tells me that the Force is not anywhere near done with him yet.”

Eerin slumps, frustration still bleeding over her shoulders, but she is definitely calmer. Qui-Gon can feel her actively trying to calm herself. “Will you bring him back…? If you can?” Her voice is heartbreakingly fragile. It rattles Qui-Gon’s heart.

Feemor reaches out to her again, hesitantly, gauging if she wants to be touched. She lets him. His hands settle on her shoulders, becoming her anchor once more. “We cannot promise that. But Bant, know we will do our best for Kenobi. For your friend. We only wish to help. We want to know why he left as much as you.”

Eerin flinches slightly. “Not as much as me,” she mutters, pained, almost petulant.

A wry grin makes its way onto Feemor’s face. “No, perhaps not. But we want to know all the same.”

Eerin glances at Qui-Gon. He tries to smile encouragingly, but he thinks it falls a little flat. “Thank you, padawan Eerin. For telling us.” His voice is surprisingly steady. “As Knight Aylward said, we will do our best to help your friend.”

The nod in return is slight, but still there. “Thank you,” she murmurs.

“You should discuss this with your Master,” Qui-Gon continues. “She will help you calm your mind, see things more clearly. You mustn’t let this linger and cloud your thoughts.”

Eerin practically deflates with her sigh. “Yes, Master Jinn.”

Feemor nudges her elbow. “Finish your tea, youngling.”

Startling, she looks down at the cup still clutched in her hands as if she has forgotten it is there. Considering the circumstances, she probably has.

She gulps the now lukewarm tea.

In the next few minutes Feemor has extracted a promise from her to go straight to Tahl in exchange for promising that they will contact Eerin with news as soon as they return from their mission. She leaves with a parting, shaky smile.

When the door whisps shut, Qui-Gon grips Feemor’s forearm in silent thanks for taking the lead in the conversation. Feemor gives him a weary smile in return. As they make their way back to the kitchen to continue reviewing for the mission, shoulders heavy with new troubles, Qui-Gon voices a thought that has been nagging him for a long while. One which has only been confirmed by this encounter with Bant Eerin.

“You would make a good Master, Feemor.”

Startling slightly, Feemor glances at him, cheeks ruddying with embarrassment. “Master,” he admonishes, almost mumbling.

Qui-Gon latches onto this, though. Feemor is a gentle soul, so steady in the face of everything that threatens to bowl him over. Even Qui-Gon’s thoughtless betrayal those years ago. Feemor is the most reliable and kind person he has ever met. It is difficult to believe he is only a little over ten years younger than Qui-Gon himself. Difficult to believe he raised such a remarkable young man into Knighthood.

“It’s true,” Qui-Gon insists. “Have you thought of it before? Surely you must have.”

His friend’s shoulders hunch a bit. They reach the kitchen in a few steps, and Feemor immediately moves to the kettle to reheat the water.

“I-I have,” he admits. “But not, well, very seriously.”

Qui-Gon frowns, watches as Feemor readies two cups and searches for a new packet of tea. A niggling of guilt worms into his breast, curls about his heart. “It- it’s not because of me…is it?”

Feemor pauses. Qui-Gon cannot see his face, standing in the doorway as he is. Qui-Gon leans against the wall to ground himself.

“Feemor.” He swallows the hot lump in his throat. “I cannot apologize enough for what I have done. I will never be able to atone for the hurt I have caused you.”

Feemor’s head jerks, as if he is about to protest.

Qui-Gon rushes his next words. “You mustn’t let my faults weigh on you, Feemor. You cannot let me hold you back. Feemor, please. You are one of the most talented Knights I have ever seen. You are kind and wise. Your talents are wasted without being able to pass them on.”

Feemor turns fully, expression twisted with worry and uncertainty.

Qui-Gon steps forward, hand jerking as if to reach towards him, before forcing the it back down to his side. “Feemor.” Tears threaten to colour his voice. He had not intended for his fond comment to start off a conversation such as this. But if Feemor has been harbouring such feelings…Perhaps reconnecting with Feemor is not only for Qui-Gon’s benefit.

“Do not doubt yourself. Not your talent. Not your heart. You are more capable than you know. Any initiate would be lucky to have you as their Master.” He steps forward again, then again, until he can put his hand, warm, on the nape of Feemor’s neck and gently knock their foreheads together. Feemor’s eyes are an anxious blue in his pale face. Qui-Gon’s heart aches something fierce.

“Master,” Feemor breathes, voice a little wobbly.

“It is through no fault of your own that I abandoned you. I doubted myself. My own merit as a Master. I should have looked to you to know that was not wholly true. You are a shining example of a Knight. You want for nothing but more experience and perhaps, now that my attention has been called to it, confidence. Know that any padawan of yours would be the envy of others. I know you would never let your padawan down. You would never abandon them as I did you.”

Feemor closes his eyes with a shaky breath.

“And…” Qui-Gon hesitates, unsure if he is correct in his next thoughts. “Know that if you take a padawan, I would not begrudge you it. Yes, I still do not wish to take another because…because of Xanatos. I do not know if my feelings will ever change on the matter. But by taking on a padawan, you would not be abandoning me in any way. I would be so, so proud of you. So joyous if you took on a youngling of your own to teach. Someone that would look up to you and admire you as much as I.”

Feemor’s eyes slide open, shining with tears.

Qui-Gon smiles then, warmth unfurling in his breast. “I would also be happy to become a Grandmaster. When your back is turned, I could spoil your padawan to my heart’s content.”

Feemor’s laugh is shaky but bright, breath hitching a bit.

Qui-Gon’s other arm comes to circle around Feemor’s back. He places a gentle kiss to his former padawan’s brow, then tucks the younger man’s head into the crook of his neck. His fingers curl into the soft, blonde hair at his nape.

“Please consider what I have said, Feemor. Please.”

The younger man exhales, soft, into Qui-Gon’s throat, a few tears dampening his skin. He nods, arms coming up to curl about Qui-Gon’s waist, hands clutching his tunic. “Yes, Master,” he mumbles, words clumsy on his tongue. “I will.”

They stand there until the kettle sings at boiling point, focused on the soft, fond bond between them. Then they untangle from one another, ready their tea, and sit down at the table once more to review their mission and everything the Order has gathered about Xanatos and the Offworld Mining Corporation’s dealings.

-:-

When they walk into the meeting room, Olau’s footsteps stutter. Their Force signature lashes out for a brief moment, then reins itself tightly in, like boiling water kept beneath a lid, quaking, steaming, but contained. Xanatos is pleased that Olau is this controlled. He can hardly feel his bodyguard’s presence in the Force. It trembles along Xanatos’ seams. If he wasn’t so intimately familiar with it by now, he might even have trouble detecting it.

He wonders, briefly, why Olau has not done this before. Surely the Ubese must know Xanatos knows. That Xanatos can feel their roiling, deep weariness in the Force. He quickly dismisses the thought for another time. He cannot afford to be distracted in this meeting.

But Xanatos knows Olau can do nothing to hide from Sidious.

Nothing short of Force dampening cuffs could hide from him. But who would willingly impair their connection to the Force like that? Just the thought of being practically Force-dead makes Xanatos want to shudder.

“Ahh, Xanatos du Crion. What a pleasure it is to see you again.”

The Sith Lord’s voice slithers and sticks, making Xanatos feel unclean. But the sheer power it holds has Xanatos drifting closer, near desperate to drink it in.

A black-robed figure sits at the far end of the conference table. It is the nicest room in the facility, and even then, it can hardly be called that. Xanatos uses it to meet with clients who would rather remain anonymous in the grand scheme of things. It is not the first time Xanatos has met Sidious, nor, he knows, will it be his last.

The man’s face is still infuriatingly wreathed in shadow.

Xanatos offers a beguiling smirk. “And a pleasure as always it is to see you, Lord Sidious.” With a discreet flick of his hand, he sends Olau to the corner of the room. Even though Xanatos cannot see the Sith Lord’s expression, he can still tell when the man’s eyes slide over to the Ubese, linger in a sick kind of curiousity, then flick back to Xanatos himself.

“You are keeping new company, I see.”

Xanatos sits with a flourish at the opposite end of the table. He’s left his hair free today, and it swings with the movement, sliding soft across his shoulders and throat.

“I thought it might amuse me.” No need to make Sidious think Xanatos cannot handle himself. “I have found that they are useful in keeping one’s mind from boredom when dealing with the more tedious aspects of my business.”

The answering laughter is more of a cackle than anything else. Xanatos finds himself smiling in response. Sidious is, if nothing else, entertaining in the way he presents himself as a disturbing, if somewhat predictable villain.

“I myself have a…bodyguard in training.”

The admission is unexpected, though. Sidious hardly ever offers information about himself in an effort to keep his identity a secret. Though Xanatos knows Sidious will have no trouble in ordering Xanatos’ annihilation if he does find out.

Still, Xanatos latches onto the statement. “Oh? Where are they now? I thought a man like yourself would rather dispatch anyone who dared lay a hand upon you with your own power, than let someone else do it.” He knows his tone is a little mocking. He cannot help it. It is in his nature, and he is not weak. He’ll never let Sidious think he owns him.

There is a tense, silent moment before Sidious lets loose another rasping chuckle. “Oh, they cannot spend all of their time with me. I have left them in capable hands. As for why I am training someone…What is it that you said earlier? Ohhh, yes. It is, as you say…amusing.”

Xanatos actively fights down the shudder that threatens to chill down his spine.

One pale hand slips from beneath Sidious’ pitch cloak as he raises his arm, as if to inspect his nails. His fingers are spindly, verging on wrinkled. “I would also have someone to pass on my ways. To teach. It is such a satisfaction, teaching. You can feel their soul start to twist with your words. When their mind begins to bend beneath your touch. Can feel the wrath simmer in their blood. Their hate tremble in their very bones…” He practically hisses his last word. His fingers curl into a deadly, bone-white claw. The Force quakes about him, rattles Xanatos’ bones. He can feel Olau’s quiet panic in the back of his mind.

Xanatos knows what Sidious is doing. What Sidious knows.

The cloaked man tilts his head. His focus is intense. The meaning behind his words thrums until Xanatos can hardly hear over the static in his brain.

Sidious used to be an Apprentice, perhaps still is. But his Master is about to be dispatched by his own hand, if he hasn’t been already. Sidious has already acquired an Apprentice of his own. Has assumed the role of one of the most powerful beings in the Galaxy.

He is saying, I can do the same to you, if I so wish. I could bend and break your mind to my will. But you are not my first choice. I already have an Apprentice, and I can see you have found a Force-gifted creature for yourself. Do not become arrogant. Do not think you can usurp me.

Sidious leans back into his seat, clearly at ease. “If I am to continue forward with my plans, I will need someone to…distract. They will be needed in the grand scheme of things.”

He is saying, I know you. I know who you are. I am only telling you this because you are of use to me at the moment, and I can kill you whenever I so please. In the end, you are insignificant. Do not forget this.

Olau thrums in anxiety behind him. Xanatos is vaguely pleased that the Ubese has managed to stay calm in the tumult of Darkness threatening to drown them.

This is a display of power.

Xanatos wishes he isn’t as terrified as he is. Wishes he isn’t as furious as he is. Furious that Sidious is mocking him. Furious that he is terrified by this power. That this man was only just an Apprentice¸ and already he is this terrifying.

Xanatos wants to lurch to his feet. Scream that he is sickening and destroying worlds! That he is luring people into a blind contentment so they will not see the mining outside their windows, the corruptness of their cities. He wants to tell this vile man that Xanatos is not one to be dismissed. He is forging a path for himself that will earn him a respect from those intelligent enough to give it. He does not need the Jedi or the Sith. He will be important in his own right. He is important in his own right. He is not something to just be tossed away like rubbish. Like a disappointment.

But Xanatos says none of this.

He cannot. He will not. It will be a sign of weakness if he has to scream his worth. Sidious will strike him down without thought if Xanatos proves more of an annoyance than an asset.

Hate saturates his every breath. He has half a mind to somehow become a Sith on his own, take Olau as his own Apprentice, dismantle whatever web of power Sidious has woven and take down the man and his Apprentice himself.

Perhaps he will.

But it has only been a few years since Xanatos has been on his own. Even if he’s built his Corporation in that insignificant amount of time into the vast and sprawling thing of chaos it has become— he still is not ready to kill Qui-Gon. And he cannot even prepare to destroy Sidious before he has done that.

Xanatos can feel the smirk that curls, toxic, on Sidious’ face. He thinks that perhaps Sidious knows what he is thinking. Sidious certainly knows what he feels at any rate. And Xanatos can feel the man’s twisted satisfaction from across the room.

“I have a task for you, Xanatos.”

Xanatos’ lips curl in displeasure. “And what job do you have for me today?” It is why they are here, after all.

“I have need of your mining expertise. I require Kyber crystals. A significant amount of them, for a little…project, I am working on.”

Xanatos cannot help the bark of laughter. “And how much is a ‘significant amount’, may I ask? A planet’s worth? Two? Surely you must know the Jedi keep an eye on any planet with them. It would be difficult to bypass their strict access.”

Sidious leans forward, elbows sharp on the table before him. “I merely need one tonne of it. Surely you must know the Jedi do not have theirs eyes everywhere. They turn a blind eye to the Outer Rim where slavery runs amok. They turn away from any place that holds no immediate importance to them. I have sources who say they have even abandoned old Temples in favour of revitalizing the new.”

It certainly makes sense. Xanatos still remembers all the Temples they had to memorize in class. Given some time he could find an overlooked planet with the Kyber crystals Sidious is asking for.

“How much are you offering to pay?”

Sidious waves a hand. “It is of no consequence. Name your price and it shall be settled.”

Xanatos raises a brow. Sidious must be eager for the crystals, then. He wonders what the man wants them for. Perhaps a prototype of something, or maybe he plans to build a small army of Force-sensitives and needs the crystals for their lightsabers. The thought makes Xanatos want to laugh.

“You have a deal then, Sidious.”

The meeting does not take much longer. Sidious even pays Xanatos half the agreed amount in advance. When Sidious exits the room with a sweep of his cloak, returning to his cruiser to leave the planet, Xanatos allows himself to slump in relief.

Dealing with Sidious is always tiring. He is used to being the most intelligent, scheming person in the room. Sidious challenges Xanatos in a way he both craves and despises.

There is a gentle touch at his shoulder.

Xanatos glances up at Olau’s impassive helmet. Its gleam is dulled in the dimly lit room. Olau’s hand tremors, just the slightest. They have lost the tight grip on the lid of their boiling pot. Anxiety, grief, anger flushes over Xanatos’ skin, pulsating from where Olau touches him. But the Ubese’s shock is perhaps the most potent.

“Sidious is a trying man,” Xanatos offers. It is somewhat of an apology, though he doubts Olau takes it as such.

“You would…” Olau’s voice seems more raspy than usual. “You would associate with this man?”

A wry grin slips over Xanatos’ face. “I rather think I must, if I am to get anywhere in this universe.”

Olau pulls their hand back, a vague sense of betrayal, of indignation, trembles in the air. Xanatos finds himself shaking his head.

“If I did not reach out to him he would find me, as he did the first time we ever spoke. He was…curious. I had just renounced everything I had ever known, filled with rage and hurt and just beginning my business. If I refused him I doubt I would still be standing here today.” It takes a lot to admit, but Xanatos knows he must not ignore his own shortcomings. He must learn from his faults in order to grow stronger.

Uncertainty swirls about Olau, and an odd sort of conviction. Their hand comes to rest on their hip, fingering the pouches and blasters hidden there. Xanatos has gotten better at reading the Ubese in these last months. He must, since he cannot see his bodyguard’s face. Since they have been there nearly every time he has awoken from his nightmares.

Xanatos observes Olau for a long moment more. He wants to speak more of Sidious, of why Olau would feel betrayed by Xanatos’ association with him. But it has been a long journey to this sickened planet and a longer meeting still. He wishes to eat and rest. To scour his memory and research potential planets laden with long-dismissed Kyber crystals.

He stands, smoothes a hand over his glossy hair. “Come, there is much to do.”

Olau tilts their head and follows him out the door

-:-

“Will the ship fly?

Feemor’s laugh is loud and throaty, and he slaps Qui-Gon on the back as he passes him onto the ramp. “Master, I do not know why you have always been so leery of ships! This is a perfectly capable little cruiser. More than enough room for you and me, and anyone we may pick up along the way.”

Qui-Gon scowls, fairly petulant though he will not admit so. “I am not leery. I would merely rather ride a ship that does not look like it will fall apart upon leaving the atmosphere.”

Nearly devoured by the ship by now, Feemor’s voice echoes down into the launch bay. “We needed something that wouldn’t scream Jedi, Qui-Gon. This makes it look like we’d gladly gamble for the chance to win big on Telos.”

A heaving sigh blows all the breath out of his breast. At least Qui-Gon can rely on Feemor’s flying. He’s cautious but confident. Nothing like Xan—

He barely stops his flinch. Bitter that it still hurts. This is why you must never become overly attached, Qui-Gon thinks to himself, moving forward to board the ship. Why you must never be blinded by love.

So lost in thought he is, he does not notice the flash of white behind him when the ramp closes. His footsteps echo in the bowels of the ship, and then the rush of noise as thrusters blast into life and the ship comes alive drowns out any other noise at all.

Chapter Text

 

Luckily there is an almost direct route from Coruscant to Telos, so they only have to stay in their cruiser a little under a day. Feemor makes sure to point out to Qui-Gon that this is also because their cruiser is quick but sturdy, despite how she may look. Qui-Gon scowls at him, but the younger man only laughs in response.

Feemor spends the first hour checking and rechecking their route, adjusting the course correction when they must fork onto a different hyperspace lane. From there, there are only a few gentle curves through a smattering of systems to reach their destination.

Feemor says he picked out the ship especially, having used it on a few missions before this. The ship has two small quarters and a make-shift but well-hidden holding cell for emergencies. The rickety-looking thing also boasts a fairly sizeable cargo area, several other storage lockers, a refresher, a kitchen even tinier than Qui-Gon’s own (stocked with startlingly-bland essentials) and a near-barren communal area.

Before they do anything else, Feemor rustles through the cupboards beneath the table and pulls out two older blasters with their accompanying belts and blaster-holders. He places them atop the table where two boxes already sit. Opening one box, he checks its contents, smiles, then shoves over one blaster with a bundle of cloth, a forged identichip resting atop.

“This one’s for you, Master. No worries about the fit, the Quartermaster still has your measurements. And he came up with a new fake name for you. One that Xanatos won’t recognize from your old missions.”

Qui-Gon picks up the identichip and slips it into his pocket, then runs a hand over the cloth and unfolds it. There’s a weathered, mud-brown short cloak with a loose hood. Beneath is a slate-grey, long-sleeve wrap tunic and a kaf-coloured undershirt with a tight turtleneck. Lastly is a pair of worn, black trousers that look more than a little scratchy. Qui-Gon turns incredulous eyes on his former padawan.

“Feemor, you cannot be serious.”

Feemor side-eyes him as he inspects his own blaster. “If it were up to you we’d lift our hoods to cover our faces and mind-trick our way out of any suspicious questions. I don’t think we should take any chances, Master. We’re headed straight into the sarlacc pit and I’d rather take any advantages I can get. This at least won’t scream Jedi. It’ll take a little longer for anyone to notice us and report it back to Xanatos.”

Qui-Gon frowns over his disguise, already mourning the loss of his comfortable and well-worn-in robes. “If you say so…”

Feemor grins. “Hey! At least you get to keep your boots!”

Surreptitiously wiggling his toes, Qui-Gon lets out a quiet sigh of relief. Thank the Force for small favours.

The blaster is awkward and unfamiliar in his hands. He knows how to use one, is proficient even, but it certainly is not his favourite. There’s a pouch tucked against the blaster sheath where he can slip his lightsaber until he needs it.

There’s a soft click and Feemor hums in discontent.

Qui-Gon glances up to see Feemor peering into the second box.

“What is it?”

Clicking his tongue, Feemor reaches into the box to take out three slender rings. He holds them by his fingertips, delicate, like he doesn’t quite want to touch them. They’re dark with barely-there symbols etched into the inside curves. An involuntary shiver slivers up Qui-Gon’s spine.

“I asked the Quartermaster for four Force-suppressors. Perhaps his padawan misheard when she brought over our supplies.” He considers them a moment more, then places two of them on the table before Qui-Gon with a quiet clack. “Ah, well. In any case, we still have them if we run into Xanatos and need to capture him.”

Qui-Gon considers the Force-suppressors. They’ve discussed this. Probably for far longer than they should have. If Xanatos is truly a Dark Jedi now, if he truly is a danger to himself and others, then they’ll have to take him in. Qui-Gon is thankful that Feemor managed the quick-prep of the mission while Qui-Gon spoke with the Council one last time to smooth out the mission parametres.

Taking a sleeve of the grey tunic he curls his fingers about the suppressors, cool even through cloth, and wraps them in his bundle of clothes.

Feemor reaches into the box again and pulls out a datachip key. It’s inscribed with a few more faint symbols. They’ve only the one and it’s keyed into the suppressors they requested.

Lifting his single suppressor, Feemor slips his fingers inside so his nails press against the inner edges. Grimacing, he touches the key to the suppressor and flexes his fingers. The ring snaps wider, sparking. The action reveals the glowing edges of ancient lettering.

Temporary little things, they block the wearer’s ability to feel or control the Force for as long as the bracelet is snapped about one’s wrist. The bracelets feed on your Force-signature and connection to the Force itself. They’re even made out of refined Cortosis ore, thus resistant to lightsabers and blaster fire.

The Temple almost banned them at one point, considering them Dark. But the Council had soon realized their effectiveness against Dark users, so they’d kept some on hand. There are a limited number of them kept in Jedi custody, and the process of making them is a well-kept secret only available to the Head Quartermaster, Grand Master and Head Librarian. However, the bracelets are not infallible. If desperate enough, one could cut their own arm off to escape it and with enough force one could break it (though likely crushing their wrist in the process).

So the bracelets are considered temporary. The real Force suppressor was in their hidden holding cell. It was a heavy-metaled thing meant to fit around one’s neck. It was far less painful than other variations, yet still relied on electrical impulses and injected chemicals from hidden needles.

That was a truly gruesome thing Qui-Gon hoped to stay far away from for as long as possible.

Qui-Gon is only grateful that those kinds of Force suppressors are kept under careful lock and key, and are few and far between in the galaxy. One must ask special permission to use this ship lest it fall into someone else’s hands.

Feemor snaps the bracelet shut, then tests it once again. Satisfied, he leaves it locked and drops it, soft, onto his pile of clothing. “That should do it,” he sighs. “I can keep the key, if you want.”

Nodding in acquiescence, Qui-Gon gathers up his bundle of newfound belongings. “We should rest. You can sleep first, I’d like to remain in my robes for as long as I can.” He throws Feemor a quirk of a grin.

The rest of their trip is spent in quiet companionship, sleeping in shifts, meditating, and reviewing their plans.

-:-

Xanatos finds Olau on a balcony overlooking the facility and the dreary crash of waves just beyond. The Great Sea of Bandomeer stretches over the horizon. If you look closely enough you can just barely see the dark masses of Deepsea mines squatting above the surface. Their thin legs poke out of the sea like shards of bone, the fat tops of the facilities skewered upon them. Stuck. Trapped. Just like the people inside.

The light wanes as the sun sets behind them, blotted out by a thick swathe of cloud. It throws the balcony into almost complete shadow. But Xanatos still spots the dull gleam of Olau’s helmet, their slight frame and sharp shoulders thrown in stark relief against the gloom of the sky.

Xanatos steps out from the hallway. He’d let Olau roam after claiming he was going to take a much-needed nap and begin preparation for Sidious’ request. But it is now near dinner time and instead of simply comming his bodyguard, Xanatos had preferred to stretch his legs and his Force sense.

He joins the Ubese by the rail, leaning his arms against it. The sea breeze reaches them even up here. His hair flutters across his forehead and shoulders. He blinks against the sudden chill of the air. Olau does not acknowledge his presence.

Xanatos inhales deep. The tang of natural rot and brine neatly intertwine with the choking sensation of bitter acid and smoke. There was a time when the sea blocked out nearly any other scent. It is so large on this world it appears all-encompassing. Not like Mon Cala. The single landmass is too large for that. But the sea used to seem untouchable by sentient hand. Unparalleled in wrath during a storm.

Until Xanatos encouraged the growth of mining on this planet. Until he made a deal with the Hutts and slaves came into play.

He tries not to think about it too often.

(he’s never very successful)

Olau shifts beside him. Xanatos peeks at them out of the corner of his eye, but they’re still inscrutable. If Xanatos were to make a guess, he might say Olau is looking at those lonely mines trapped by the sea, at the smudge of distant horizon.

“It’s so odd…Like I’m standing in a memory I’d rather forget…” Olau’s voice is barely there, sounding unbearably young. It makes Xanatos uncomfortable. “But I’m here. I’m actually here, and…” Their fingers grip the rail tight. Leather gloves creak.

Trying to ignore the leap of his heart into his throat, Xanatos asks, “Have you been here before?” His voice is even and composed. He counts it as a victory.

Olau’s helmet jerks just the slightest towards him, like the Ubese wasn’t expecting Xanatos to say anything. But Xanatos has hardly ever been quiet and complacent. It is just not in his nature. There’s always been a riotous spark lodged deep in his gut and hooked sharp in his heart.

Olau seems to contemplate the answer. When they respond, their shoulders are as rigid as can be. “Yes, in a place like this. A long time ago.” They tilt their helmet more towards him, challenging. “I escaped.”

Even though Xanatos is half expecting it, it’s still a punch to the gut. “Oh,” he mutters, a little lost. Blindly, he reaches out to touch Olau’s presence in the Force. Olau blazes hot with defiance, anticipation thrumming into…into hope? Xanatos blinks. It flutters soft like a heartbeat, almost chilled and dead. But it’s there. Clinging to a harsh and cruel reality. To the edges of Olau’s weary soul.

Xanatos cannot help but stare. He craves now, more than ever, to see this creature’s face not hidden by an impassive mask. He needs to see their expression twist with the emotion he feels in the Force. Needs to confirm what he senses, to unravel each and every layer— to reach out with shaking hands to touch and feel like he hasn’t in ages. Not since Qui-Gon. Not since he was a padawan allowed the simple warmth and companionship of skin-on-skin. On the very worst nights he closes his eyes and feels Qui-Gon’s hands carding through his hair, plaiting his padawan braid, gripping his shoulder tight in comfort.

He always opens his eyes feeling more empty than he can bear.

That ache throbs within him now, twisting his gut as he fights the compulsion to reach out and touch Olau’s mask or shoulder or their still tense hand upon the rail. It disturbs him. This overwhelming want. This need.

He wonders if it makes him weak.

He thinks of Qui-Gon. The trust he held in him. The trust that was broken beyond all repair.

He thinks yes. Yes, this need makes him weak. This want to know Olau, to empathize and share the pain of the past, to understand each other. To maybe even…even come to rely upon one another.

Olau is still expectant. That hope still fluttering soft in the breeze.

Xanatos’ lip curls into something undoubtedly ugly. “Well, it is good you did, then. Clearly you were better than your captors believed you to be. They did not deserve you.” He thinks perhaps he’s smirking. There is no way to tell. His face does not even reflect in Olau’s helmet. Not in this waning light. “I am glad you are here now, Olau. Serving me of your own free will. I sense we will accomplish great things, you and I.”

He barely suppresses the flinch. That again. That ‘you and I.’

He needs no mirror to know the sneer upon his face.

Xanatos cannot afford weakness. Not when he has spent so long learning from mistakes that left him near-broken.

“Come.” The word is sharp. “It is time for dinner.”

Whirling on his heel, he doesn’t dare reach out again with the Force. He does not want to know if that ghost of hope is snuffed out, fading into the acrid stench of the factories below.

He does not look back.

But even after the doors shut behind him, his nose stings from the lingering salt in the air.

-:-

“I am glad we do not have to search Citadel Station,” Feemor comments as they touch down in Thani Terminal. “That space station is far too complicated a maze for me.”

Humming in idle agreement, Qui-Gon finishes plaiting his hair into one thick braid. He smoothes it over a shoulder then lifts his hood even though they are still in the ship. Through the window the port is teeming with people and ships. A bored Aqualish attendant waves them down with a glow-stick, fingers flicking over the datapad in their other hand.

“I knew you’d like the hood.”

Feemor’s grin is more of a smirk, far more satisfied than Qui-Gon is comfortable with. But the older man only answers with a huff and casts out his mind for any sign of a familiar presence.

There’s only the warm, chaotic bustle of living beings. No sign of Xanatos’ brilliant burst of fervor. Qui-Gon barely contains the sigh of relief. Even if he cannot sense his former padawan, it does not mean Xanatos is not in Thani, or that he will not return.

Feemor finishes with the post-flight checks. He waves distractedly at the attendant, then stands. “You have everything?”

“Yes.” Just as most Jedi do, Qui-Gon never goes without his utility kit. To maintain discretion, they’ve transferred their things to new belts which won’t be as easily recognized. He could never even think of going without his commlink, grappling hook, aquata breather, ‘sabre repair kit and his special energy capsules. In this case, they each have a special commlink that won’t be as easily spliced as their regular comms.

Feemor smooths his hands over his leather vest and light jacket, lightly palming his hidden tools and the secured blaster and covered lightsaber at his belt. As broad as his shoulders are and as kind as his eyes will always be, you could mistake him for any other man on the street.

“Excellent,” the young man says. “Shall we?”

The Ualaq Aqualish attendant meets them at the foot of the ship’s ramp. He’s only half focused on them as he types into his datapad, glow-stick tucked under an arm. “Names?”

“Felorun Acks and Quil Joss.” Qui-Gon says easily.

The Ualaq nods, muttering. “How many days will you be docked?”

“We think four. We may need longer.”

Huffing, the attendant seems to roll his eyes, though it is hard to tell when there are two sets and all of them are pitch black. “There will be an additional fee if you stay longer.”

“We do not mind,” Feemor is quick to say.

The Ualaq eyes them, then makes a notation on his pad. “Are you citizens of Telos? If not, is this a business or recreation trip?”

Qui-Gon grins roguishly. “We are not citizens, though we are hoping to benefit from the gambling opportunities your planet provides.”

There is no doubt this time that the Ualaq rolls his eyes, though he does not comment on Qui-Gon’s answer. “Are you carrying any livestock or plants? Have you been exposed to or have been infected with a virus within the last two weeks?”

“No,” Feemor says.

Clicking his tusks, the attendant makes another note, then holds up a scanner. “I will need to see your identichips.”

“Of course.” Qui-Gon brandishes his own forged identichip and keeps that confident grin on his face while the scanner beeps a positive confirmation. Feemor’s identichip produces the same results.

The Ualaq confirms a few things on his scanner, makes a couple more notes on his data pad, then peers up at them again, eyes hooded with the boredom of routine. “And your passenger?”

Qui-Gon cannot help the jolt. “Passenger?” His voice is sharp as he shares a bewildered look with Feemor.

The attendant perks up at this, eyes narrowing in suspicion. “Yes, I scanned your ship for life signs as you docked. It is standard procedure.”

“I assure you we have no passenger. It is just Felorun and I. We are taking a break from business and hope to win some credits during our stay here.”

Unclipping a second scanner from his belt, the Ualaq snaps, “Well, I can assure you that there were three life signs onboard your ship when you docked. I can scan again if you wish.” He brandishes the tech in their faces.

Feemor stares a little helplessly at Qui-Gon, shrugging crookedly.

A frown pulls harsh at Qui-Gon’s lips. “If you will excuse us a moment, we would like to inspect our ship. We may have a stowaway.”

Grumbling, the Ualaq shoos them back up the ramp and furiously begins to type away again.

Qui-Gon and Feemor turn as one and stride back into their ship.

“A stowaway?!” Feemor hisses, eyes shining, panicked. “Who could possiblySurely we would have sensed them, Qui-Gon!”

Qui-Gon keeps his gaze straight ahead, pushing his unease into the Force, letting only cool resolve remain. “We would have.” As they step fully into the ship he closes the ramp behind them. No use letting more people on or off the ship without their knowledge. “There must be something else at work here.”

He pauses in the corridor, closes his eyes, lets his Force sense stray and envelop the ship. The only Force signature he senses besides his own is Feemor. He frowns, presses deeper, sinks into the Living Force as far as he dares go. All living things are connected to the Force. If there is someone onboard he should know.

The ship only pulses in hibernating electrical impulses. Latent power hums through his bones, warms his brain. Every part of the ship, even that Force-awful holding cell and the air of the ship hums in—

Every part of the ship. Except the deadspace tucked into a tight corner of a storage locker. Qui-Gon’s senses settle around it, gently probing the cold deadspot in the Force. The only place in the ship his senses cannot breach.

Qui-Gon’s encircles it once more before easing out of the depths of the Force, lest he be swept away and crushed by the pressure of things he cannot hope to understand. Not in life, at least. He lets out of deep breath, opens his eyes. “I believe I know where we need to look.”

The storage locker is one tucked away near the main cargo bay. It sits idle. There should be nothing in it.

But when Qui-Gon jimmies the door open with a creak, there is.

Qui-Gon cannot help his aggravated sigh. “What are you doing here, youngling?” His voice is not kind.

There is a weedy boy huddled behind a support beam. His dirty, booted toes stick out too far to keep completely hidden. Plus, there is no hope hiding even in the dark with that ghostly white hair. It will give the boy away anywhere he goes.

Ice-blue eyes peer up at Qui-Gon from behind knobbly knees and crossed arms. They glitter eerily with alarm and more than a bit of fear. But Qui-Gon still cannot feel him in the Force. It is more than a little unsettling. The wrongness of it twists in his gut.

“Oh,” the boy mutters, voice hoarse.

Qui-Gon frowns. There are deep smudges beneath the boy’s dazed pale eyes. His cheeks seem nearly sallow. “Youngling? Why are you out of the Temple? Why are you aboard our ship?”

A gentle hand lays on his shoulder. Qui-Gon glances at Feemor’s mollifying expression. Qui-Gon acquiesces to Feemor’s silent request. The older man pulls back, allowing Feemor to peer into the compartment with little effort. Qui-Gon notices that Feemor takes care not to block most of the doorway.

Light cuts across the youngling’s face. He jolts and squints at the brightness of artificial light. His messy hair shines but there is no trailing padawan braid.

Qui-Gon belatedly realizes the boy must have been cooped up in the storage unit for at least a day. If he’d left it, there was no way the two of them would not have noticed. He surreptitiously examines the locker door. The boy most likely would have been able to force his way out if need be. But nonetheless the thought does not stick right in his belly.

“What is your name, young one?” Feemor’s voice is kind and coaxing. “I am Feemor Aylward. May I ask what you are doing in this storage locker instead of safe in the Temple?”

The boy shakes his head a bit, nose wrinkling in discontent, as if clearing his mind of wool. “I’m— I’m here for- for the mission.” His brows creases as he squeezes his eyes shut, one hand gripping his wrist. His nails bite into the fabric of his long, blue over-tunic.

“The mission? Young one, you are not assigned to this mission. What are you doing here? Did someone put you up to this? Trap you in here?”

Oh Feemor, Qui-Gon thinks. Ever the optimist.

The youngling jerks, hands spasming oddly. “No,” he croaks, clears his throat, tries again. “No- I- I’m here because, because I want to be.” He leans forward, peering out at them, eyes slightly favouring fevered.

Concerned unease bubbles uncomfortably in Qui-Gon’s stomach.

“‘Because you want to be?’” Feemor echoes, still soothing. But he oozes confusion and disquiet. “Youngling, surely you know you cannot be here. It is dangerous. Your Crèchemaster will be looking for you.”  

Qui-Gon feels Feemor reach out and try to caress reassurance into the youngling’s presence.

“Looking for me…? No, no they don’t care,” the youngling whispers. “In a few months I won’t matter at all.”

Feemor actually flinches when he meets the cold nothingness of the child’s presence.

“Youngling? Youngling.” Feemor’s voice is more urgent now. He physically reaches out a hand into the dark of the locker. He fingers barely brush the youngling’s arm. “You must tell me what is wrong. What have you—” Choking on his words, his other hand flies to his belt. His mouth works silently for a moment, eyes wide. “Oh youngling. You must come here. Come out of the closet, child.”

The youngling turns disturbingly intense eyes upon them. But it is like he doesn’t see them, like he is instead seeing through them. “You have to help me. I’m- I’m here. To help you. I’m here to help you I swear I can and I’ll do whatever you want just- You have to understand you have to want me please want me—”

Something unseen rattles in the air, quaking in Qui-Gon’s gut. Something is about to burst and Qui-Gon fears it’s this boy. It’s like he’s watching a pale shade of Xanatos splinter from the inside out right before his very eyes.

Feemor shoves his upper body into the locker, shoulders scraping painful against the walls as he wraps careful but urgent hands about the boy, pulling him out. The boy ends up sprawled in Feemor’s lap, a quaking mess of too-pale child. The rich blue of his outer-tunic only serves to bring out the now obvious blue of his lips and the tips of this fingers.

Gentle hands rearrange the youngling into a slightly more comfortable position before Feemor’s patting down the boy’s arms. After a few hurried moments, he grips the boy’s left hand and yanks down the sleeve.

There’s a cold ring of black about the boy’s bony wrist.

Qui-Gon’s heart clogs his throat. “What does he—?”

Feemor fumbles in his pockets and pulls out the datachip key. He curls the fingers of one hand about the Force suppressor, nails hooking into the metal, and clicks the key against the frigid ring. With a none-too gentle jerk the bracelet snaps open. The glowing symbols pulse, sickly, burning into the backs of Qui-Gon’s eyelids.

The ring is tossed into Qui-Gon’s lap. He plucks it up with wary fingers and tucks it away to settle against his other two suppressors.

As soon as the bracelet is loose, the air about the boy ruptures in grief and relief, agony spiking throughout like streaks of lightning. Feemor holds the youngling through it as he quakes, limbs spasming. His tiny gasps of distress echo in the hallway, lungs labouring.

Qui-Gon watches as Feemor soothes the boy, hands carding through his sweaty hair, smoothing it off his forehead. Tears leak from the boy’s eyes. “You are okay,” Feemor murmurs, wrapping his Force presence about the boy’s tumultuous one. “You are one with the Force again. Just reach out, breath with it. That’s right, breathe…Feel it pulse within your heart.”

They stay there for a few minutes before Qui-Gon hears the echo of an impatient knock on the outside hull.

Feemor catches his eye. We cannot leave him here, he mouths.

Qui-Gon frowns. We cannot take him back, he mouths in response. We are already here. We have already made contact.

The younger man’s eyes rake over the trembling boy. His brow furrows. Meets Qui-Gon’s gaze again. We’ll figure out something. Just— let the attendant know a child we know snuck aboard.

Qui-Gon considers the two of them for a moment more, then nods. He rises on creaking knees, back protesting, then heads to the ramp to speak with the attendant.

It doesn’t take much to convince the Ualaq that Feemor’s nephew snuck aboard without them knowing.

“He got stuck in a cupboard,” Qui-Gon laments, eyes rolling and shoulders shrugging in helplessness. “Scared himself near half to death. That silly boy is too foolish for his own good. Thought he could have an adventure— Just see where that got him.”

The Ualaq mutters something about his own idiotic sons, and accepts four days’ payment, plus tip for the inconvenience they’ve caused him.

When Qui-Gon makes it back onto the ship, Feemor has moved the boy to the communal area. The youngling huddles against Feemor in the curved booth seat of the table. His shaking has mostly subsided, but his hands and shoulders still spasm on occasion. He clutches his now freed wrist with bone-white fingers.

“His name is Bruck Chun.” Feemor rubs a soothing hand over the boy’s arm.

“Has he said why exactly he is here?”

Feemor shakes his head. “No.” He turns his gaze to the boy. “I have a feeling you thought you knew what you were doing, youngling.”

Chun’s lip trembles. He catches it between his teeth, biting down so hard he nearly draws blood. He worries it for a minute, then speaks. “I- I did.” His voice is sullen, verging on unrepentant. But it is clear he is still shaken to his core. His Force presence curls in on itself even as it jerks to touch everything in reach, as if to reassure himself everything is still here. That he is still here. That he is still a part of the Force instead of a void of nothingness.

Somewhat pulling away to look at him, Feemor adopts a stern expression. “No, you didn’t youngling. You’re clearly still in shock. You would never have willingly put on that suppressor if you knew how it feels. If you knew the effects are more than not being able to be detected.”

Chun flinches. “I had a plan—

“It was a foolish one.”

Despite the disturbing circumstances, pride swells in Qui-Gon’s breast.

Chun snarls like a wounded animal. “There was nothing else I could do! No one wants me, no one cares— They’d just as soon see me disappear into the weak ranks of Agricorps than help me! I heard Master Jinn was going out on a mission and I thought—” He twists to glare Qui-Gon down. “I thought if I could just show you, if I could just prove myself you’d- you’d take me as your padawan.” His voice cracks. A fresh wave of grief trembles through the Force.

Qui-Gon hopes more than anything that Xanatos is not on the planet. That he is not feeling this. For surely if he felt this boy’s despair he would snap him up in an instant and use the youngling for his own benefit.

“And- and I’m friends with the Quartermaster’s padawan. She didn’t help me exactly but I knew I could follow her and, and put on the Force suppressant so you wouldn’t feel me until too late.” Chun’s face twists in self-loathing, infuriated defeat stiffening his shoulders.

Dread born from the past burrows into Qui-Gon’s gut, threatening to swallow him whole. This is exactly like Xanatos. A younger, paler Xanatos still terrified of being abandoned. Except, Qui-Gon suspects, this child has never truly had someone to lean on. Though considering the pulse of jealousy and resentment in the youngling’s soul, Qui-Gon knows it was probably no one’s fault but the child’s own.

“Aside from the fact that I am no longer taking any apprentices,” Qui-Gon manages to say, “I would never consider this act of reckless ignorance and desperation a sign that you are ready to become a padawan.”

Perhaps it is cruel. Feemor’s knowing but accusatory gaze certainly declares so. But it is true, nonetheless. And the child needs to know this.

Chun gawps up at him in utter disbelief. Indignant fury lashes out uncontrolled, and beneath it is a wave of hurt and resignation. Perhaps the initiate knew this would never grant him what he wanted. But he was clearly desperate enough to try.

“Child.” Qui-Gon stresses his words, pulling himself to his full height. “Consider this a lesson in patience and self-control. In letting go of your chaotic emotions. If you continue on this path I fear what may become of you.”

Chun’s face crumples. “I—” he chokes, trembling anew. His brows furrow so deep it must be a dagger to the brain. A hurt to match the one in his heart. “I never even asked for this life. But I don’t- I don’t know what I’d do without it, either. What am I supposed to do?”

Qui-Gon steadily pulses his own chaotic feelings into the Force.

“Though my Master could have said so more delicately, his words speak truth.” Feemor squeezes Chun’s arm. “This was no way to go about this, even if you are desperate. How many more months until your Naming day?”

“Just- just four.”

Feemor rubs Chun’s shoulder. “See? You still have four more months to find a Master.”

Chun’s sneer is messy but sharp. “I doubt it. I’m the only one left of my agemates besides—” His face twists into an odd expression, one Qui-Gon can’t place. His hands curl tight. Brilliant, pale eyes pierce Qui-Gon’s own. “But now that I’m here— I mean, you said you won’t take a padawan but I know I can prove to you—”

The youngling’s hands spasm in the residual effects of Force-deprivation.

“Child,” Feemor says. “You cannot think of that now. Focus upon your own health and recovery. It is extremely dangerous for one as young and untrained as yourself to be cut off from the Force. This was a very foolish course of action, youngling. Very foolish. You have jeopardized your own health and future, as well as the outcome of this mission. You have put us all in danger.”

Chun opens his mouth as if he is about to bite out some ugly retort. But then he pauses, scowls, and hangs his head. He’s a mass of shame and righteous anger.

Feemor and Qui-Gon share a silent, weary sigh.

“We cannot drop you off at the Telos Jedi Academy, Chun.” Feemor pulls back to rest a hand on Chun’s nearest shoulder. “We are on a critical undercover mission. We cannot draw attention to ourselves.”

Qui-Gon folds his arms and gestures vaguely towards the closed ramp. “I have had to register you as Knight Aylward’s nephew, Tyrus. We cannot let you stay in the ship by yourself lest something happens.” Lips pursing, he continues, “You will have to join us on our mission—”

Chun brightens noticeably, baffled hope flickering.

“—but only as an observer. I cannot emphasize enough that this is a dangerous mission. You could die, youngling. If you continue to be as foolish as you have already proven, you will die.”

Chun looks abashed.

Promise me, youngling. Promise me you will obey our every word and heed caution. This will not end in apprenticeship. Do not forget that. But perhaps you will learn and grow.”

The youngling gapes up at him for a long moment, hope and resentment warring. Eventually he nods, offering a quiet, “Yes, sir,” along with it.

Qui-Gon stares him down for a long, tense moment more. “Good. I will hold you to it, youngling.” He raises a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose, then rubs at his aching temple. He chokes down a weary sigh.

“Now, let’s get some food in you. We’ll have to put our mission off at least half a day to allow your recovery. After you eat we’ll lead you through a meditation to ease the strain on your senses.”

Chun shrugs, self-conscious and still defensive. “Yes, sir.”

Qui-Gon catches Feemor’s strained eyes.

Perhaps they are all in need of some meditation. It will help soothe the overwhelming feeling that already threatens to choke them on this mission.

Chapter Text

Bant plunges into the water hands first, parting it as she slips into the cool depths. She exhales, bubbles streaming from her lips, then breathes in, water filling her mouth, her throat, her lungs. She fights the discomfort, allowing her lungs to figure out that they need to take in oxygen from the lake and not the air.

Curling deeper through the water, she empties her mind. Watches the sunlight glimmer in streams about her, dappling her hands, highlighting the pink of her skin. She breathes slow and deep, focuses on the rush of water both within her body and out. Though breathing underwater is somewhat uncomfortable for all Mon Calamari, she finds a comfort in it. There is a peace underwater land cannot offer. It is like she’s in her own world. Like no one can ever encroach upon it.

It’s just the coolness of the water and her. Here, they are one. Here, Bant can calm her mind and escape the anxieties of everyday life.

There’s a distant splash above her. She twists just in time to avoid sharp heels in her back, but she still gets a face full of streaming bubbles. Choking, scowling, the bubbles clear and she comes face-to-face with puffed up cheeks, twinkling brown eyes and a stark yellow slash across a sharp nose.

Bant crosses her arms, bare feet swirling to stay in place. She aims her best glower at the boy who’s very clearly doing his best not to choke on his own giggling.

Yes, this place would be a sanctuary, if not for Quinlan Vos.

The boy in question waves a hand almost frantically, cheer painted across his still puffed cheeks. He pointedly glances around him, then jerks his chin upwards, pointing to the indoor lake’s surface.

Arching a brow, Bant purses her lips.

The Kiffar shrugs, grinning lopsidedly as best he can with air stored so ridiculously in his cheeks.

Bant rolls her eyes, nods, then quick as a viper lashes out to kick Quinlan in the stomach. His eyes go wide, a thick stream of bubbles escaping him. She can just barely hear his startled grunt through the rush of water. Giving him the sweetest smile she can manage, she kicks back up to the surface.

By the time she’s made it to the edge of the pool, Quinlan breaks the surface of the water, spluttering, coughing and amazingly half-grinning, half-scowling.

Bant rolls her eyes again, dragging herself up to sit on the water’s edge, feet still dangling into the pool. Her friend’s always been ridiculous. She can hardly believe Master Tholme can handle him. But, she reasons, the man found Quinlan in the first place so he is entirely the Master’s responsibility.

Quinlan manages to stroke through the water, stopping to bob at Bant’s knees. He coughs out a mouthful of water, then grins crookedly up at her, teeth glinting.

“Still pretty feisty, huh, Bant?”

Bant fixes him with her best blank stare, crossing her arms yet again. “I rather think I have to be when it comes to you, Vos.”

Bursting into laughter, Quinlan reaches out to grip the pool’s ledge, then fold his arms to rest his chin upon them. His grin is infectious to most. Bant is usually not among that number.

“Aw, don’t be like that, Eerin,” he teases, winking. He coughs again, then huffs out a breath. “I think you’ve gotten even stronger since last time we met.”

Bant allows herself a slim smirk. “And you’ve gotten dumber.”

Quinlan pouts, bottom lip wet and trembling. “So cruel,” he whines. “Why, if I didn’t know better I’d say you didn’t even miss me.”

Bant’s gaze softens. “I’m glad you know better, then.”

Quinlan’s grin loosens in response, managing to look slightly less manic. “How long’s it been, then? Six months? Seven?”

Bant huffs a laugh. “Try nine, you dope.”

The Kiffar eyes her, then raises his gaze to the domed, glass ceiling far above them. “Wow,” he breaths. “Has it really been that long?”

Nodding absently, Bant’s eyes slide across the water. “Yeah. Time flies when you’re a padawan, I suppose.”

Quinlan shrugs, dreadlocks slipping wet over his bare shoulders. “I guess.”

Bant hums in thought, gaze still lost somewhere ahead of her. “You seen Siri yet?”

“Nah, I thought I’d catch up with little Aayla first. Then I decided to go for a swim and found your robes by the lake. Thought I might as well say hello.” He side-eyes her, affection and concern briefly colouring his face.

Bant dips her head, a smile pulling at her lips. When Quinlan came back a year ago from a mission with little Aayla Secura cuddled in his arms, they’d all been shocked. Sure, Quinlan was good with kids in a bad-influence kind of a way, and sure he could be caring— But no one really thought he’d bond with a child quite so quick, nor so deeply. He seemed convinced that one day she would be his padawan. It was like he was unconsciously following in his Master’s footsteps: find a child, rage like a mother krayt dragon when threatened, then keep it like some half-wild pet.

It makes Bant want to laugh.

If Obi-Wan was here, Bant is sure he’d be incredulous. She can just imagine the little arc of his brow, the pursing of his lips, the quick jibe ready to fall off his tongue. Undoubtedly, he and Quinlan would get into a fight. It was how it always went. But despite belonging to different Clans and their somewhat…strained, if sarcasm-ridden relationship, they’d been good friends.

At least their relationship hadn’t been more like Siri’s and Quinlan’s. That was a bit more caustic.

As it was, after Obi-Wan…left, Bant and Quinlan grew closer, both thrown off-kilter by the loss. Somehow they’d found themselves in an odd sort of friendship, a kind of push and pull filled with teasing and exasperation. They never see each other very often due to the nature of their respective Masters’ work. But whenever they find themselves both Temple-bound, they manage to spend time together, shedding missions’ worth of stress with each visit.

Bant flashes Quinlan a small smile. “And how is your future padawan?”

Just mentioning the little girl causes the boy to light up. “She’s grown so much since the last time I saw her! Her skin has darkened a bit and her lekku are a little longer! I think they have a little more dappling than before…” He grins into his arms, practically nuzzling them, joy radiating from his Force signature.

“Oh!” He shoots up, dreads flying, teeth glinting. “And she’s saying a lot more words now! She knows my name! Did you know that?! I walked right into the crèche and she ran up to me, little lekku bouncing as she cried my name in that adorable voice of hers.” His grin is so wide, Bant fears he might split his cheeks.

She laughs. “Sounds like you’re more than a little in love, Quin! You going to adopt her as your sister next?”

A flush rises in the boy’s cheeks, but he surges through his embarrassment. “A Master has to keep an eye on all stages of his padawan’s development,” he recites surprisingly seriously. “I am proud of every achievement my youngling makes.”

Bant’s laugh is a full belly one, deep and fluttering and bending her in two. “Oh, Quin!” she chokes through her laughter. “You aren’t even a Knight yet! You’re getting a little ahead of yourself, aren’t you?”

Slouching, Quinlan pouts. “I know I’m gonna be her Master, okay? I just- I do. I’ll make Knight by the time she’s ready to be a padawan. I’ll fight off any interested Masters until then.”

Bant’s grin is fond. “I’ll keep an eye on her while you’re away, Vos. Make sure no big, bad Master gets to her before you do.”

The Kiffar scowls, then sticks out his tongue, tattoo scrunching over his nose. “Might as well give me weekly reports, then.”

Bant rolls her eyes. “I’d rather just let her comm you instead.”

Quinlan perks up, like he hasn’t even considered it before. “Can you do that? Can we do that?”

Bant’s expression cools into sympathy. “Probably not.”

Her friend’s face dims and he slouches again, mumbling, “Maybe I’ll ask my Master…”

Bant reaches out to pat his hand. “You do that, Quin.” She knows if Quinlan shows any more attachment to the little girl, he’ll be reprimanded. His relationship with the Council is strained enough as it is, with him proclaiming he’ll be her Master when she’s old enough.

Quinlan smiles distractedly up at her, grateful even as his mind is clearly going a kilometer a minute. He twists his hand so it’s palm up and gives her fingers a light squeeze.

They’re silent for a minute more, each lost in their own thoughts. Then Quinlan breaks the moment with a shiver. The water must be too cool for him while he sits idle. But he stays in floating in the pool, instead choosing to speak.

“Hey, uhm.” He sounds awkward, shifting to pull his hand from hers to rub the back of his neck. His eyes slide to the side, away from her. “Any, uh, more word? About- about our little troublemaker?”

Bant flashes hot, then cold, her own shiver quivering up her back. Distractedly, she rubs her calves together, then crosses her knees as she half-turns away to avoid her friend’s eyes.

“Master Yoda has forbidden us from telling anyone,” she mumbles. The words taste bitter on the back of her tongue.

She feels Quinlan tense beside her, turning his head to stare at her with intense eyes. “‘Us?’” he echoes.

Bant grimaces, shoulders hunching up around her ears. Leave it to the Kiffar to be utterly too sharp when she absolutely does not need him to be.

“There was a new vision…” he reasons his thoughts aloud. “And you shared it with each other.” His next words edge with hurt. “But you won’t tell me…? Does Siri know?”

Shaking her head, Bant studiously eyes the water lapping against her calves. “No. She doesn’t. Just- just Reeft and Garen.” She purses her lips.

“Well,” Quinlan huffs as he drags himself out of the water. “If you don’t tell me I’ll touch your lightsaber or tunics or whatever and then you won’t have to tell me.”

Whipping around, Bant snags his wrist in a tight grip just as he reaches for her scattered clothing. “No!”

Quinlan jerks, eyes wide at the intensity of her exclamation. Water drips from his hair into his eyes, making him squint and blink rapidly.

Bant’s grip loosens. “No,” she says in a softer, more weary tone. “I- I wasn’t the one with the vision, anyway. Reeft had it.”

Her friend frowns. “Well, I’ll still get some emotions off your belongings. Or I could find Reeft.” It’s not a very subtle threat. Then again, Quinlan is hardly a subtle person.

A great heaving sigh gushes from Bant’s lungs and she slumps, letting go of her friend. There’s nothing she wants less than for Quinlan to be overwhelmed by the feelings and images he’ll experience through his psychometry. She knows he’s gotten more adept at it, but she still remembers Siri pulling her to the side to speak in a hushed voice. Siri telling Bant she’s worried about her crèchemate. That Quinlan sometimes wakes screaming from nightmares about before the Temple.

“I think—” Siri had said, eyes darting, brows furrowed, lips pinching out rushed words. “I think his parents were murdered. I mean- he was four when he joined the Katarn Clan. Old enough to remember them, right? I think—” Siri’s hands had clenched her grey tunics, twisting. “I think he was- was forced to- to experience—”

Siri hadn’t been able to choke out anything more.

Bant had done her best to calm the girl’s pained fretting. In the end, Siri decided to just watch Quinlan as close as she could.

In Siri’s mind, this translated to spitting complaints whenever Quinlan used his psychometry to bypass mystery and investigation. To distracting him from nightmares by stealing his covers or shoving him over so she could scooch in next to him, claiming his already too-small bed was much more comfortable than her own. Bant could only watch, helpless, as Siri’s concern for Quinlan came across so poorly that their other crèchemates thought they were bitter rivals instead of friends.

At least Quinlan half-understood it. Or, well, as much as Quinlan could when dealing with such an acerbic girl. He met Siri’s poorly-chosen remarks word for word, baffled and more than delighted to go head to head with her. He certainly considers her as both friend and rival.

Bant knows Quinlan is less wary of his abilities now. He has to be, because it’s not something he can really suppress. But by resigning himself to his own fate, he’s become far too eager to use it as a shortcut for things he wants to know. He tried it with Obi-Wan’s bed after their friend disappeared, trying to understand why. But—

Bant still cringes thinking of it now.

Quinlan ended up in the Halls of Healing for three days. When he woke up, he didn’t remember his screaming or his sobs, much less whatever he saw while touching Obi-Wan’s cold and abandoned covers.

So Bant wants to spare Quinlan from this. Whatever this really is.

Bant drags her legs out of the water, turning to tuck them beneath her. She folds her hands in her lap, not really knowing what to do with them.

Opposite her, Quinlan sits cross-legged, hands clenching his knees.

She still cannot meet his gaze.

“Reeft…” she begins almost helplessly. “He- he saw Obi. Our age. And he was in trouble.” Squeezing her eyes shut, she rushes on, “It might not be anything. The future isn’t set in stone. My Master said not to dwell on it too much.”

Knuckles going bone-white, Quinlan leans forward, intent. “But it might. It might mean something. And Master Yoda knows? Can- can they do anything?”

Shrugging weakly, Bant sighs again. “It- it might be relevant to a mission Master Jinn and Knight Aylward are on right now. I told them about it, so they’re- they’re keeping an eye out. So- so hopefully…” she trails off, stomach a heavy knot in her gut.

She startles as a warm hand envelops her own, then glances up into Quinlan’s eyes. They’re suddenly a lot closer than before. Determination lines his face.

“It’ll turn out all right, Bant.” His fingers tighten. “It will.”

Smile feeble, yet still there, she leans forward to gently knock her forehead against his. “Thank you, Quin.”

His breath is a soft comfort against her cheek. “And we’ll be here. Waiting for him.”

Her hands twist to curl about his. “Yes.”

For a few minutes they simply just sit and breathe, soothed by the other’s presence.

“I- I’ve been getting more visions since you’ve been gone,” Bant eventually says, voice frayed, strained. “A-and Reeft…”

Quinlan lets go of her hands altogether to pull her into an embrace. A palm settles on the curve of her head, fingers brush the bend of her back. Tentatively, her arms curl around him.

“They- they just keep getting worse. There’s so much Darkness. And pain. Reeft— We’ve been trying to figure out what links our visions, because they’re not the same. But we can’t make head nor tail of anything at all. It’s so frustrating, and my Master hasn’t even met Obi-Wan but she doesn’t like him. She doesn’t like him and she hasn’t even met him.” Fingers curling tight against Quinlan’s bare skin, Bant trembles in pent up fury.

“A-and Reeft and Garen—” she chokes out, throat tight and painful. “The- they… I just… They’re my best friends but I don’t- I think I’m—” A sob tears up her throat, ragged against her lips.

Her fingers dig into Quinlan’s shoulder blades. Quinlan rubs his hands as soothingly as he can against her still damp skin.

Bant fights for breath. “There’s this- this thing inside of me. It- it eats away at my calm, at the reassurances my Master gives me… It scrapes me raw and feeds on my guilt a-and every time, every time I try to- to talk to my Master about it, she just- it’s like she doesn’t even really hear me.” She presses her face into the hollow of her friend’s throat.

In that moment, she resents that she cannot cry. Not physically, at least. Resents that she can’t sob her weight in tears and feel their coolness against her cheeks, taste their salt upon her tongue like a reminder of a planet she doesn’t remember. Can’t remember. She’d not even been a year old when the Jedi took her from Mon Cala.

The ridges of her forearms dig into Quinlan’s fragile skin, but he doesn’t protest. Doesn’t even squirm. Bant is more than grateful for this friendship. This boy doesn’t even complain about her inner turmoil, about the sticky-gross feeling that sludges in her stomach more often than not. She thinks he understands. He’s sharp in a way that many people dismiss in the face of his antics. And somehow he’s kin in a way Reeft and Garen just…aren’t. She doesn’t quite grasp it herself. She’s- she’s afraid to. Yes, her friend left her, left them— and by the Force she doesn’t know why. But she thinks it shouldn’t have disturbed her quite like this. There’s this unease always creeping in the back of her mind, underlining every thought, slinking in the wake of every step she takes.

She’s afraid. She thinks, maybe- maybe if Obi-Wan hadn’t left, whatever it is inside of her— whatever sinks unrelenting claws into her heart whenever she sees hears feels something that shudders wrong through her lungs— she thinks it might still be there. Might still be dogging her thoughts and blistering whywhywhy in the back of her throat.

Bant buries these worries deep inside her, deep in the pit of her belly and at the base of her spine where no one can find them, not even if they slit her open and pry apart her ribs to peer at her juddering heart and aching lungs.

She doesn’t want her Master to see. Doesn’t want Tahl to think Bant shouldn’t be her apprentice. That she isn’t ready to be a padawan, a healer, a Knight eventually. But—

Bant thinks- she thinks—

She thinks there might be something wrong with her.

But maybe if she buries it deep enough it will fade away into nothing. Maybe her lungs will take in enough oxygen. Maybe she’ll step just so heel to toe instead of worrying that at any moment she’ll turn her ankle. Maybe- maybe her atoms will finally align right and not- not keep existing just off kilter ever since Obi-Wan left. Ever since she stepped out of his room in the Halls for the last time. Ever since she touched his hand when his lashes fluttered, his eyes opening shadowed, lips cracked as he spoke his first coherent words after that horrible night. Ever since she awoke to his screams and retches echoing through the halls, heart knocking painful against her too tight ribs.

If she locks it away maybe she’ll forget all about it. Act like everything is normal, because it should be normal.

She shouldn’t feel this shattered, this lost. Garen and Reeft certainly still hurt, but not- not like this.

So she clings to Quinlan. Lets her shields crumble just a bit because she thinks he knows, even if she doesn’t. Not really.

At least fire and blood and shifting sand doesn’t flash across her vision when she’s with him. It hasn’t yet, and she hopes it never will.

“Wanna meditate for a bit?” Quinlan’s voice is steady, soothing the drumming heartbeat in her temple.

Exhaling shakily, Bant nods, not trusting her voice.

Quinlan rubs her back once more before pulling away, expression unusually solemn. His hands flutter along hers, lingering, then he scoots back. He settles into a loose cross-legged pose, palms up and open.

Bant steadies her breath, releases her anxieties into the Force as best she can, then copies his pose. Listening to his even breathing and the gentle lapping of water just beyond her reach, Bant can let herself relax.

Here, in this moment, she can just soothe the frazzled edges of her soul and take comfort in her friend’s assuring presence.

Here, she allows herself to think everything is going to be all right.

It will be all right.

-:-

Xanatos pours over his datapad, absentmindedly spooning Gi dumpling soup into his mouth. It’s not exactly a breakfast food nor easily acquired. However, one of Xanatos’ greatest pleasures in being a business tycoon is that he can eat whatever he wishes whenever he pleases. It’s the complete opposite from the vast majority of his life. No longer must he choose between dull meals in the Temple refectory, choking down Qui-Gon’s ghastly cooking or vainly attempting to not burn their tiny kitchen down.

Xanatos takes full advantage of his influence and wealth with not one bit of lingering guilt. He’s worked hard to be where he is. He deserves it.

There’s a knock at the door.

Xanatos doesn’t even bother to glance up, calling out a distracted, “Come in.” He scrolls through the newest reports on Offworld’s investments, eyes flickering across the lit screen.

Out of the corner of his eye, an Arcona slips into the sparse dining room, head bowed. He sips another spoonful of soup, idly rolling a dumpling across his tongue, relishing in its soft flavour.

“There is a transmission, my Lord. From Telos.”

Xanatos does glance up this time. The Arcona still does not meet his gaze, yellow salt-hazed eyes trained upon the ground. Lips pursing in distaste, Xanatos gestures with his spoon for the comm in the Arcona’s hand.

Obediently, the Arcona steps forward and timidly holds it out. Xanatos sets down his datapad and takes it from the Arcona’s minutely twitching fingers. The comm blinks green.

“Anything else?”

The Arcona’s head shakes frenetically from side to side. Fighting the urge to roll his eyes, Xanatos waves them away. The Arcona doesn’t hesitate to exit the room as quickly as possible. Eyeing the steadily blinking light, Xanatos takes care to finish off one more mouthful of soup before pushing the bowl away to avoid further temptation. He dabs his mouth with a napkin, then leans back in his chair and crosses his legs.

He answers the call.

“Xanatos du Crion.”

“Ah, my Lord. It’s Moulti.”

A grin curls across his cheeks, slow. “Is it time for a check-in already?”

“I trust Olau is fulfilling their duties adequately?”

Xanatos’ eyes flicker to the window where Olau stands silent, their back to the rolling waves outside. The grey of the sky cuts across their helmet and he catches the slight shift in their slim shoulders. His grin widens.

“Olau is as efficient as ever, no need to worry.”

“I am grateful then, that you are still alive so I will receive my allotted credits for the month.”

Laughter huffs from his lips. Though Moulti certainly has no trouble deferring to him, she does not curb her honesty, either. It’s refreshing. “Do you have anything to report?” Amusement warms his words.

“Unfortunately, yes. I would have taken care of it on my own, however it has the potential to develop into something more serious. I thought you might want to weigh in your judgement since it is, after all, your company.”

Xanatos straightens in his chair. “What did you find?”

“There is a tech worker in UniFy’s employ. I do not know how he got past our background checks, but I have found that he has been fired from multiple other companies. One of the more recent ones suspected him of slicing and stealing data.”

A frown pulls his brow into a sharp vee. “That is indeed concerning.” Annoyance sparks on his tongue.

It will not do to expose UniFy’s connection to Offworld, and it will be even worse if the people of Telos realize their beloved Katharsis is none other than a scam. The people love their gambling, after all, and are even more enamoured with the idea that they are restoring their planet through their nasty little habit. Xanatos certainly doesn’t need them to know that Katharsis is rigged. That they’ll only get a fraction of the credits boasted while the rest of the profits go directly into Offworld’s pocket.

After that security scare some months ago, Xanatos is more cautious than ever. He wonders what would have happened if he hadn’t hired Moulti, if this tech worker had never been caught.

Nothing good, he’s sure.

“Thank you for alerting me, Moulti. I trust you to take care of the problem as you see fit. But do make sure you find out if he stole and sold any information.”

“Of course, sir.”

A headache threatens to throb in his temple. It is not even half-morning. “What’s his name?” he asks half distracted, eyeing his cooling soup with regret.

“Denetrus.” There’s a slight pause. “Don’t worry too much, my Lord. If anything, he seems more like a small-time criminal than anything we should worry about too much. No matter what happened, I’ll take care of it.”

Yes, Xanatos is extremely thankful he hired Moulti. She’s ridiculously reliable, and after he did his own background check on her (albeit after he’d already hired her), he feels considerably more on top of things. Just by standing next to the Khil, Xanatos can feel the stubborn loyalty that settles her soul. Once Moulti has taken a job and you’ve put a loaded creditchip in her hand, Xanatos knows you’ve got her for however long you’ve hired her for, even if someone tries to buy her out with a higher bid.

Xanatos knows. He’s done his research.

“Thank you, Moulti. Keep me apprised.”

“Yes, my Lord.”

The comm clicks off. Xanatos sighs, reaching up to massage his temple. His eyes cut over to Olau. The Ubese seems tense, tenser than they’ve been since they stepped foot on this planet. But it is no wonder considering the news they’ve just received.

“We may cut our trip short, depending on what Moulti uncovers.”

Olau nods, a tight little thing.

Xanatos sets the comm on the table with a sharp clack. He sighs again, then pulls his soup back towards him. It’s still warm.

Unfortunately, he’s only just ripped off a piece of Havla and dipped it into the broth when there’s a commotion down the hall. Dropping the bread into the bowl, Xanatos straightens from his very unseemly slouch and puts his hand upon his lightsaber. Olau darts to hover over his shoulder, wary.

The doors burst open to reveal the immense and honestly quite disgusting, slimy, hulk of a Hutt. There’s another smaller one right on his tail, and the Arcona from before scrambles behind them, babbling apologies in a mixture of Arconese and Basic.

Xanatos’ temple does throb this time. He’d hoped Jemba would be too slow to realize his presence until after he’d already left the planet.

“Jemba,” Xanatos drawls, reclining in his seat, the very picture of calm and grace. He makes no move to stand. Olau is utterly still in a way that means they’re ready to bring the Hutts down if necessary.

If only.

“Lord Xanatos,” the lead Hutt rumbles, tongue sloppy around his Basic. “I was not…expecting you. I would have gathered a welcoming party if you had told me.” Resentment slicks his words.

With a vague flourish of his hand, Xanatos flicks his hair over a shoulder. “I’m afraid it was a last minute decision. I thought I wouldn’t bother you since I’ll only be here for a few days. Surely you have more important work in Bandor.”

Jemba grunts, body heaving as his sickly yellow-red eyes narrow. “It is no trouble, my Lord. My underlings keep things running in the Capital.” His eyes flicker to Olau, expression almost unsure. Then his tongue slicks out of his mouth, leaving a trail of saliva. “Important…business? Sir?”

Xanatos can tell it takes everything in the Hutt to address him with respect. While Xanatos would rather not work with someone quite so…repugnant, Jemba does do an adequate job of running Offworld’s operations on Bandomeer. The Hutt has even helped Xanatos make many connections. In particular, he has smoothed the way for business with Gardula Besadii the Elder, who is only too eager to deal in slaves. She provides the majority of Xanatos’ ‘off the record’ workforce.

Even so, Jemba and his simpering cohort Grelb are not exactly pleasant company. Which is why Xanatos didn’t tell them about his visit in the first place.

Xanatos’ smile is a pleasant, cool thing. Deliberately, he reaches out to drum his fingers against the edge of his datapad. The screen is still lit, but from the Hutts’ angle they cannot read anything on it.

“No, nothing of great importance. Bandomeer was simply a convenience, I assure you.”

Jemba’s eyes narrow even further until they’re mere slits in his wrinkly face. Grelb fidgets beside him, not even taking care to hide the sneer cutting across his cheeks.

Jemba grumbles for a second, then forces out, “Well, I hope everything is to your satisfaction. Would you like to tour the facilities while you are here…?”

With a slow shake of his head Xanatos half turns away from his unwelcome guests, head tilting as if in idle thought. His hair slides coolly against his throat. “No, I think not. Things to do, nothing I can really put off for a simple inspection.” His eyes cut back to Jemba, sharp in his lazy expression. “I would not want to keep you from your important work in Bandor, either.”

It is a near thing, but Jemba does not splutter. However, his cheeks darken in olive outrage and his tongue flaps even more than usual when he speaks. “Of course, my Lord. Let us know if you need anything.”

Xanatos does his best not to sneer as the two Hutts attempt to turn and exit from the room smoothly. But they’re slow and their bodies larger than the room or doorway really allow, and it takes some jostling and snide remarks before they both make it back into the hallway safely. The Arcona who’s been standing just to the side of the door wringing their hands in distress, bows hurriedly.

“I am s-sorry, my Lord. I- I could not stop them! I t-tried—!”

Xanatos considers them. The creature practically bleeds anxiety from their every pore. With a sharp gesture, he cuts them off. They gaze up at him, hazy eyes a little clearer in their fear.

Something in Xanatos’ stomach twists. Bile tickles the base of his throat. He clears it, swallows away the taste. “There is hardly anything one can do to stop a determined Hutt.” He pauses, taking in the creature near bent in half before him. “You may see them out.”

The Arcona sags in relief, babbling, “Yes, my Lord! Yes! Right away!”

The door shuts behind them. A trail of slime oozes along the floor as foul-smelling as the Hutts it came from.

Xanatos glances at his soup, then grimaces. He pushes it away, completely put off.

“If only I did not have to deal with Hutts,” he murmurs, bitter.

“They never were my favourite species, my Lord.”

Xanatos glances up at Olau, startled. His bodyguard’s helmet is as blank as ever but revulsion swirls beneath his presence. It draws a sharp huff of laughter from him and Xanatos grins crookedly, weary.

“Yes, well, it’s a necessary evil.”

Olau’s helmet tilts down. Xanatos imagines the Ubese’s gaze boring into his own.

“Is it?”

Xanatos cannot find it within himself to answer. Smoothing his face into something that could rival marble, he stands, swiping the datapad and comm from the table. “There are projects to work on. We can’t be sitting idle.”

Olau considers him for a moment, then bows. Their bows are never very low, just a slight tilt of their head and torso. Very proper. Too proper. It chafes Xanatos’ mood.

He leaves the room with steel for a spine and sun-bleached bone for knuckles.

Olau is, as ever, a silent shadow behind him.

-:-

They do not return to the mission at hand until the next day. Not until Chun’s shudders cease and his presence in the Force only aches with residual trauma.

That first day of waiting is almost nerve-wracking. Qui-Gon and Feemor both want to at least recon the city. But they dare not leave the ship, unwilling to risk the youngling’s wellbeing if something goes wrong while one of them is out. Instead, they take turns meditating with the Initiate, teaching him how to smooth out the frazzled sparks of his presence, patiently guiding him in untangling the knots of his soul, helping him bleed the chaos of his mind into the Force. His body is starved for the Force and it takes some time for him to adjust and become comfortable with it again. It’ll take more than a day to heal what has been done, but they cannot waste any more time. It will have to wait until the mission is over and they can herd him to the nearest Mind Healer.

Since he’ll have to accompany them on their mission, they take care to instruct Chun on how to dampen his Force signature until it flushes soft instead of pounding against their shields. If anyone notices his Force presence, and it is almost certain someone will, they’ll simply think he is an untrained, barely Force-adept child. Nothing to really bother with. Hopefully.

It is slow going and extremely frustrating for Chun. But he does a half-way decent job and by the end of the day he collapses into Feemor’s cot, so exhausted that he’s unconscious almost immediately.

The next morning, though. That next morning Qui-Gon ends his watch before dawn even breaks across the dark sky. A simple touch to Feemor’s shoulder and the younger man is awake. It takes some shaking to wake the youngling, but eventually his eyes flutter open, bleary, jaw cracking open in a gaping yawn.

“A-already…?” the youngling croaks. Messy white fringe falls into his eyes as he rubs at them, sitting up.

“We’ll have to do something about your uniform,” Feemor says, voice hushed so his words don’t grate in the drowsy youngling’s ears.

“Wha…” Chun blinks down at himself. “Oh. So I don’t stand out.”

Smiling encouragingly, Feemor says, “Yes. Luckily, you’ve gone a little beyond regulation.”

An embarrassed flush highlights Chun’s pale cheeks. “Yeah, well…I like blue,” he mumbles.

Expression indulgent, Feemor tugs at the youngling’s sleeve. “I believe we can work with that.”

Much to Qui-Gon’s eternal amusement, Feemor carries a sewing repair kit wherever he goes. It’s a lingering habit from his padawan days, when missions with Qui-Gon often resulted in torn and muddied clothing. Qui-Gon himself is terrible with a needle, though he always tries his best.

But early on in his apprenticeship, little Feemor had taken one look at Qui-Gon’s unsteady stitches and unkempt clothes, a meeting with some planet’s Queen looming ever closer, and had wrestled the scrounged-up needle from his Master’s hand.

“Honestly, Master,” he’d scolded, voice cracking. “Do I have to do everything?

Qui-Gon, delighting in his young padawan’s new-found boldness, had watched as Feemor hunched over their clothing and, stitch by careful stitch, made it as presentable as possible. From then on, the young padawan was in charge of mending their clothes whenever the Temple launderers couldn’t.

Watching Feemor now, Qui-Gon notices that the young man’s tongue no longer peeks out of the corner of his mouth as he works. One habit broken, Qui-Gon supposes with some melancholy.

It takes no time at all for Feemor to cut and sew the blue over-tunic into a sleeveless v-neck. He rips apart the tan undertunics to fashion a soft cloth belt, sewing the fraying edges with a careful hand. Using the leftover sleeves from the over-tunic, he lines the youngling’s beige trousers in blue, so they look more like a middle-class child’s garments.

With a scrutinizing eye, Feemor fiddles with Chun’s hair, then parts it so his bangs fall to either side of his face instead of flopping unruly over his forehead. Chun scrunches his nose in distaste and reaches up to ruffle his hair. But Feemor bats his hand away, nodding approvingly.

“You look more the part of a mischievous, entitled child now.”

Chun colours in indignation but Qui-Gon chuckles under his breath.

“I rather think he already was that,” he murmurs to himself.

Feemor shoots a glare at him but the youngling doesn’t even notice.

Chun pats his clothes down somewhat approvingly, then peers up at them, eagerness lining his face. “Do I get a blaster, too?”

Qui-Gon’s eyes widen in disbelief.

“You most certainly do not,” Feemor bites out before his former Master can say anything.

Chun pouts, scuffing the floor with his toe. “But it’s going to be dangerous, and you said I can’t bring my lightsaber…”

“Exactly,” Qui-Gon cuts in. “You cannot keep it properly hidden on yourself, and even if you tried I suspect it would be easily detected. It will be even more dangerous if you had a blaster. People notice if a child has a weapon. Especially in a city like Thani. You’re here acting as Feemor’s stowaway nephew, not a brigand.” He draws himself up, shoulders squared. “Anyways, we don’t plan on using lightsabers here. We’re only bringing them in case the worst happens. We cannot let anyone know Jedi are conducting an investigation.”

“But what if something does happen? What if I’m in trouble?! I won’t be able to defend myself!”

Qui-Gon and Feemor exchange a glance.

“Trust that we will protect you. You will not be sneaking off without us anyway, correct?” At Qui-Gon’s pointed stare, the youngling nods. “If you truly are in danger and we are not there to aid you, rely on the Force. Jedi must not simply rely on a weapon to save ourselves. We are more than that. Remember your classes, listen to your instincts. You will find a way.”

Chun nods again, face pinched in reluctant acceptance.

“It is time to go.”

As they head towards the exit, Qui-Gon briefly lays a hand on Chun’s shoulder. “Remember. Stay close, keep your eyes open and listen to the Force. If we tell you to do something, you must do it without question. We are only looking out for your safety, Initiate Chun.”

The youngling contorts his face into a determined sort of expression. It is almost amusing how hard he tries to look compliant.

“Yes, Master Jinn.”

Qui-Gon’s brow ticks. Then he lets the child go. “Good.”

The youngling marches ahead, but Feemor slows, prompting Qui-Gon to match his pace. The younger man leans close to his former Master and asks, words barely more than a breath:

“Will he be all right?”

Qui-Gon’s lips purse, and he folds his hands beneath his short cloak.

“He’ll have to be.”

-:-

Siri finds them a couple hours later. Their skin has long since dried, and both Bant and Quinlan are calm swathes of emotion in the Force.

When Siri plops down beside them, they open their eyes. The girl raises a blonde brow at their smallclothes, but Quinlan only waggles his eyebrows and sticks out his tongue.

Bant snorts, feeling much more at peace than before. Their joint meditation in the Room of a Thousand Fountains has done wonders for her mood. She barely notices that sticky-pit deep in her gut.

“Quinlan decided to interrupt my morning swim,” she says, exchanging a knowing look with Siri.

“I just thought you might like some company! I’m very good company! Tell her, Siri! Tell her that I was right to join her on her very boring swim! I make everything twice as fun!”

Siri rolls her eyes. “Well it’s sure good to see you, too, Quin,” she drawls.

Quinlan grins, scooching over to her to wrap an arm about her shoulders and tousle her hair. Through long experience, she expertly dodges and shoves a hand in his face, pushing him to the side. As he tips over flailing, she twists his arm back, jabs an elbow between his shoulder blades, and forces him face-first into the ground.

“Ah- Siri!” Quinlan complains through a mouthful of dirt, wriggling beneath her.

She only digs a knee into his back, smirking. “You’ve been gone far too long, you nerf herder.”

Quinlan groans, twisting in a futile attempt to snag her hair. “Why are you both so mean?

“To keep your ego in check, mister,” Siri bites out, a genuine smile gracing her lips now that Quinlan can no longer see her face.

Bant laughs, knowing not to get between the two.

Quinlan somehow manages to twist his fingers in Siri’s hair, yanking her head to the side so she loses her grip and they roll over. They tussle for a few more minutes, Bant watching with a fond smile. The impromptu scuffle ends with both collapsed on the ground, new bruises blooming, staring up at the glass far above.

“N-next time- it won’t end in a tie,” Quinlan pants, reaching over to weakly punch at Siri’s shoulder.

Siri bumps his hand with her fist. “Ye-yeah, right.”

Bant huffs an amused breath before crawling over to them, snagging her and Quinlan’s discarded clothes along the way. She drops his tunics on his stomach, then plants herself between them, reaching out to smooth out Siri’s tangled hair.

Siri groans. “We have class soon.”

Quinlan drag his clothes over his face, muffling his words. “I just got back…”

“Padawans don’t get a break,” Bant teases.

Quinlan moans in response, rolling over to curl against her thigh. “But I don’t want to.”

Bant laughs, then tousles his hair. “You’ll get to see your crèchemates. Garen and Reeft will be there, too. Garen will want to pull some pranks now that you’re back.”

“Guhh.” The Kiffar curls closer, face still shoved into his clothes. “I guess that’s okay…We can pull something on that asshole Chun.” He tenses, then shifts to peer up at Bant. “Wait. Does he have a Master yet?”

Bant sighs. “No, he—”

“Oh!” Siri jerks upright. Her eyes are wide and her hair a golden tangle about her shoulders. “I was going to tell you!” She shifts to stare at them, skin taught about her eyes.

Quinlan sits up at a slower pace, wary. “What…? Don’t tell me that idiot actually is a padawan now.”

Siri just shakes her head, lips pulling into a frown. “No. I just— Well. I was passing Crèchemaster Vant and overheard that Chun has been missing for over a day now! He wasn’t in any of his classes yesterday and hasn’t checked in at roll call. They can’t find him anywhere in the Temple.”

Ice rolls down Bant’s spine.

Quinlan frowns. “Well- I mean, isn’t his Name-day soon anyway? Maybe he already got sent away?”

Siri shakes her head again. “I don’t think it’s for another couple months. If he was getting sent away we would have heard about it, and Crèchemaster Vant wouldn’t be so concerned. He just— disappeared.”

Just like Obi-Wan, echoes in Bant’s mind, though Siri doesn’t say it aloud.

Except- except something else had happened with Obi-Wan. He was- Obi was hurting when he left. There was something wrong with him in those last days, something that curled tight about Bant’s throat and made her want to sob whenever she was in the same room.

Whatever had happened to Bruck Chun, it couldn’t be the same as that. It couldn’t. She’d passed him just a few days ago in the halls, and he seemed normal then.

But…A chill settles along her limbs, coalescing at the base of her skull. What could it be, then?

As much as Bant doesn’t like Chun, she doesn’t wish any ill upon him. She doubts she ever will, no matter what he’s done or will do.

Chapter Text

Qui-Gon strolls at a sedate pace, allowing himself to laugh at a comment Feemor makes about the way the youngling prances down the street like a jubilant loth-kitten, eyes as wide as twin moons.

Vehicles flash by them on Chodo Habat Parkway. The main street’s sidewalks bustle with both citizens of Telos and tourists, drawn to the glittering highrises of downtown Thani.

A couple paces ahead, Chun skitters between furred legs, dangling tentacles and flashy clothing. He ducks under a swinging arm, then pauses to stare into a store window, eyes drawn to the colourful display of tantalizing foods. But then his attention slides to a woman standing off to the side between two shops. Qui-Gon follows the boy’s gaze. The woman looks out of place, a fixed point in a chaotic shuffling of feet. She seems determined, if a bit frazzled, black hair in a tight bun against her head, almond eyes narrowed as she shoves pamphlets at passersby.

Chun frowns, then drifts closer, coming to a stop at her side. She startles at his wide-eyed gaze, then softens as he aims a beaming smile at her. She then purses her lips and gives him a pamphlet which he silently accepts.

Qui-Gon and Feemor slow to stand beside him, like two indulgent uncles, as Chun skims the leaflet with all the curiousity of a child.

Throughout the day, Qui-Gon has found himself increasingly (but still only mildly) impressed with the way Chun throws himself into the role of wayward nephew. He oohs and aaws like a proper tourist, especially that of a young child on his first journey off-planet. Though, considering it is the youngling’s first remembered experience off Coruscant, perhaps it is to be expected.

Though Chun acts like any other excited tourist, he does not bring too much attention to themselves. He takes care to stick close by their sides as they venture down the streets, matching their steps carefully, even tugging on Feemor’s sleeve every once in a while to point out something of interest. Like row upon row of decorated sweetcakes in a bakery window. Or a government building which only displays cycling holos of the restoration of the planet, Katharsis winners and grinning people shaking hands emblazoned with the Unify logo. Or the myriad of shops boasting re-runs of Katharsis game favourites. Or parks filled with running children and flourishing greenery, each one headed with a sign proudly displaying the park’s name in conjunction with UniFy’s.

The youngling is not as discreet as he could be if he were properly trained, but he certainly catches on quick.

Chun only knows the bare bones of the mission. They couldn’t not tell him something. They have not mentioned Xanatos’ name or the Offworld Mining Corporation or even Unify, but they have told him they’re investigating corruption on Telos. At this, the youngling had seemed oddly riveted, a certain gleam flashing in his eye as his hands tightened briefly into fists.

Qui-Gon does not let himself wonder. He won’t be in the youngling’s company for very long so it will be no use to acquaint him beyond anticipating any erratic or foolish behaviour.

The three of them have wandered the city all day, taking in the sights, visiting areas teeming with locals, listening in on idle chatter and furious arguments. They’ve stopped twice to dine, making casual conversation as they eavesdropped on the gossip about them. When night falls, Feemor will take Chun back to their ship while Qui-Gon investigates the cantinas.

“Uncle, look! Can we visit the Sacred Pools? They look so pretty in these pamphlets!”

Feemor chuckles, placing a hand on Chun’s shoulder and leans down to take the flimsi from him. He studies it, smile wide and careless even as his eyes dart over the pamphlet, scrutinizing. “Hm, I don’t think so, Tyrus. See? This says the park is closed.”

Chun lets out an appropriate noise of discontent but lets it go.

Feemor folds the flimsi and nonchalantly tucks it into a pocket, giving Qui-Gon a significant glance as the woman handing out the leaflets scowls at them.

“You tourists don’t even care about this planet, do you?” she spits, stack of flimsis trembling in her grip.

“Excuse me?” Qui-Gon flashes a confused, but pleasant grin.

The woman’s brows crumple even further into a sharp point. “I bet you’re just here for Katharsis. That- that karking game. You’re just like everyone else— You want to take our people’s hard-earned credits instead of letting us invest it into rebuilding our planet, into saving our environment!” she snarls, words bitter and sparking on her tongue.

“Oh?” Qui-Gon’s voice is mild. “I thought Katharsis did help restore the environment?”

The woman lets out an incredulous laugh. “Then you’ve been fooled just like most on this planet.” Shoving a pamphlet in his face, she continues, “If you actually read this then you’d understand.”

Blinking, Qui-Gon takes it from her white-knuckled grip, smoothes out the crinkles, and has to blink again at the brilliant red of the pamphlet’s title splashed across the front page.

‘SAVE OUR PLANET’, it reads. ‘PRESERVE OUR WILD ENDANGERED RESOURCES.’ Below is a picture of a beautiful spread of crystal clear pools, sparkling with sunlight and surrounded by flourishing greenery. It’s captioned with ‘The Park of Sacred Pools.’

“It says the park is closed. Why’s it closed?”

Qui-Gon shoots Chun a reproving look and the boy ducks his head, embarrassed as Feemor squeezes his shoulder.

The woman purses her lips, clearly trying to school her expression into something more friendly and suitable for a curious, if naïve, child. “Like the pamphlet says,” she enunciates, “it’s supposedly closed for restoration. Many of our planet’s National Parks and Sacred places have been closed for restoration for years after the devastation of the last war. But it’s only been in the last few years, since UniFy started leading the restoration effort, that anyone outside of the company has been banned from even seeing these places. No one’s allowed to survey them even with tech. The airspace above these locations are now a no-fly zone. They say that it’s to further protect these environments, but…” Her face twists. “Everyone’s been so focused on the cities, on Katharsis, on the supposed good UniFy does. They don’t care beyond what’s in front of their eyes and the weight of their pockets.”

Chun shifts uncomfortably, shuffling his feet.

The woman looks down at the pamphlets in her hands. There are so many Qui-Gon doubts she has been able to convince more than a few people to take them. He suspects even fewer have actually read one, most likely accepting the pamphlet out of distracted obligation, crumpling it away to find days later only to dispose of it with little more than a glance.

She looks back up at them, astonishment trembling about her as she notices she still has their attention. A kind of fierce determination spikes through her and she forges on, taking advantage of their surprising complacence.

“I’ve noticed that after each winning announcement, the Katharsis winner cycles through the holonet for a few days, then isn’t mentioned ever again. You’d think someone who wins that many credits would be reported on for a while longer, spending a ridiculous amount on something stupid but—” She bites her lip. “There’s just…nothing. It’s like they drop off the face of the planet.” She chews her lip for a moment more, almost lost in thought, then snaps back to reality, searching their faces with sharp eyes.

“And—! And ever since UniFy’s rise, they’ve had their hands in way too many things. They were the ones who created Katharsis, see? What if they’re doing something else with the money Katharsis rakes in? They fund so many projects—but not all of that money can be accounted for!”

She looks so earnest, resolve flickering and sparking at the edges of her soul, that Qui-Gon somewhat pities her. She acts like a woman people have long dismissed as delusional. Fighting the urge to frown, Qui-Gon thinks that it is entirely too possible that the people of Telos IV have turned a blind eye to the reality of their lives. He has no need to tap into the citizens’ presences to know they’re content to live as they are, believing that through another’s hand their problems are being attended to and resolved.

Qui-Gon glances down at the pamphlet in his hand. “And I assume you’ve done a lot of research? Have evidence? If it is true, have you taken it to the government?”

Scarlet blooms across her cheeks. She glances down, biting her lip, frustration muddling her expression. “Well- well I’ve tried. There’s only so much I can really do, though. I only started really looking into it a few months ago… And the government,” she spits, “they’re just in UniFy’s hands! Du Crion is far too charismatic for his own good! They even plan to give UniFy full control over our National parks and Sacred places! If that happens, there will be no stopping them from completely destroying our planet!”

Miraculously, Qui-Gon does not flinch. “Du Crion?” His voice is steady, hinting at curiosity.

The woman hugs the flimsis to her breast, near wrinkling them beyond legibility. “Yeah, he’s- he’s the head of UniFy. Everyone thinks he’s pretty much perfect. The wonderful, long lost son of Governor Crion. He founded UniFy and then ran a bunch of projects to restore Telos, parks, hospitals, you name it.” Her lip curls in distaste. “He always announces the newest Katharsis winner. Wouldn’t surprise me if he’s swindled our planet Treasurer into stealing our credits for his corporation, either.”

Qui-Gon stilts a smile. “And you have no actual proof of this?”

The woman flashes him a derisive sneer. “I’ve tried. But it’s me against an entire company that controls our planet.”

Qui-Gon hums in thought.

Chun has become restless again, fidgeting beneath Feemor’s steady hand.

“Hey! We’ve told you to stop disturbing the citizens on the main streets!”

Their little group immediately looks off into the crowds where fifty paces away a man in a Telos Security Force uniform marches towards them, expression dark.

The woman lets out a little squeak. “I can’t get caught again,” she whispers furiously to herself. “They’ll arrest me this time!”

Feemor flashes one of the most alarmed and aggrieved looks he’s ever had on his face to Qui-Gon. If this woman has been causing enough trouble with her pamphlets, then they will surely get in trouble, too, for even listening to her. Even if they are just ‘tourists’. It’ll bring too much attention to themselves. They can’t allow that.

Qui-Gon smiles, serene, and lifts his hand to pass it slow through the air, as if he is drawing a line.

Feemor actually rolls his eyes, then nods, lips pursing.

“It will be all right,” Qui-Gon murmurs to the woman who looks about ready to bolt. He lays a comforting hand on her shoulder, effectively anchoring her into place. “We’ll take care of it.”

“You’ll take care of—?” Her face is twisted, incredulous. Fear and trepidation pour off her in waves.

“Do not worry.” Qui-Gon’s voice is firm.

When the man finally reaches them the woman practically vibrates with tension, as does Chun. But Qui-Gon and Feemor both look as calm as can be. The pedestrians give them a wide birth, either flashing them nervous looks or studiously ignoring they even exist.

The Enforcer scowls at them all before directing all his ire at the woman. “We’ve warned you several times to stop spreading your lies! We don’t want tourists to start actually believing you! It could seriously hurt our economy! Unify has done nothing to harm us. When I take you in it wouldn’t surprise me if they pressed charges!”

Qui-Gon steps forward to block the Enforcer’s view of the terrified but remarkably obstinate woman. He flashes his most charming smile and raising his hand in a seemingly placating gesture. “This woman has done no wrong.”

The Enforcer blinks in confusion, eyes beginning to glaze. “Wh-what?”

Subtly gesturing with his hand and focusing upon the turmoil of the man’s presence, he smooths the man’s emotions into complacency. It’s near frighteningly easy considering he is so easily influenced by UniFy’s public agenda. “This woman has done nothing to warrant your attention. You will leave us be. There are more important things that require your attention in the city. You will go and forget this ever happened.”

The man’s confusion transforms into a bored acceptance, stance relaxing. “You’ve done nothing wrong. I need to get going. You can go now.” He turns on his heel and marches through the crowds with purpose, forgetting they were even there at all.

The woman lets out a shaky breath. “What- what was that…?” She peers up at him, eyes wide. “Who are you…?”

Qui-Gon’s smile is much more gentle this time. “Someone who I believe can benefit from your knowledge. We should get going before another Enforcer finds us. Is there anywhere we can go that’s safe?”

The woman nods, eyes flicking along the main street. “Yes.” She eyes them warily, uncertainty and fear conflicting with the determination and hope that warms her presence. “Yes, we can go back to my flat.” She sticks out a hand, gripping the pamphlets tight with the other. A few flimsis slip and flutter to the ground. “I’m Andra.”

With a pleased grin, Qui-Gon takes her offered hand and shakes it. “You may call me Quil. This is Felorun and Tyrus.”

Andra nods in acknowledgment, then turns on her heel. “Come on. Let’s get going.”

However, they only make it a few paces before there’s a shout from behind. They turn as one to see another Enforcer with a furious look upon his face, dragging the man who had apprehended them before along by the arm. Qui-Gon does not doubt the effectiveness of his mind trick, especially since the original Enforcer looks particularly confused and peeved at the manhandling. But, Qui-Gon reasons, seeing the outrage on the second Enforcer’s face, maybe they work in pairs.

Since the second Enforcer is kicking up such a fuss, drawing far too much attention for Qui-Gon’s liking, he touches Feemor’s shoulder then begins to push Andra forward. “There’s no time, we need to move now.”

Feemor nods, gripping Chun’s shoulder tight

“Okay,” Andra says, voice trembling. “I-I know a way.”

They race forward, losing all pretense of normality as they dodge through the crowds. Furious shouts rise up behind them, as well of confused exclamations from innocent pedestrians.

“You’ve—” Chun begins, breath hitching unexpectedly when he leaps over a slow moving Sullustan. “You’ve caused this much trouble?!”

Feemor quietly scolds him for being unnecessarily flashy. They still cannot risk any Force usage. Not unless it is absolutely needed.

Andra shoots him a harried, wry look. “The Telosion Task Force is very firmly in UniFy’s pocket.” She huffs a bit, a little out of breath already. Qui-Gon hopes she can hold out because he doubts the Enforcers will let them go so easily.

Andra leads them round a corner and onto another main street, words a rush. “I’ve uh- probably not been as subtle as I could be.” She skids into a nearby alley wedged between two boutiques, and continues at a dead run. “UniFy does their best to snuff out any, uh dissenters. I guess you could say.”

Qui-Gon can still hear shouting behind him, getting steadily closer. Glancing back, he can just see the Enforcers rush past the entrance of the alley, then reappear as they double back, pointing, and begin to follow again.

He very consciously does not swear.

There are a few dumpsters in the alley so just as they’re about to rush out the other side, he slows for a fraction of a second to grab the edge of one. With a push and a pulse of Force-aided strength, the dumpster spins and tilts, crashing onto its side and effectively preventing their pursuers from easily passing through the two buildings.

There’s an angry shout, and before Qui-Gon can grin in private triumph, there’s a loud tell-tale beep of a communicator.

“They’re on your side! I repeat, they’re on your side!”

The brightness of the street is a stark contrast to the gloom of the alley, disorienting as they rush out onto the sidewalk.

There are two more Enforcers waiting for them.

Andra squeaks in surprise, skidding to avoid them, and without further ado, flings her stack of pamphlets in their faces.

Chun lets out a shocked burst of laughter as hundreds of flimsis soar through the air. Feemor takes the opportunity to slyly jerk on the Enforcers’ ankles with the Force. They topple like a pair of unsteady foals. Qui-Gon sweeps his hand and the flimsis whirl like they’ve been caught in a particularly strong breeze. They flutter and toss about in the air, smacking right into the downed men’s faces, sticking without much effort. Pedestrians shriek in surprise.

Qui-Gon grabs Andra’s hand and they slip past the chaos. Feemor and Chun hot on their tail. They make it down a few blocks before they cross the street and slip into the nearest shop. Then it’s out the back door and through another alley and out onto another crowded street.

They stop rushing soon enough, taking a few moments for Andra and Chun to catch their breath in another alley. Their pace is fairly leisurely from there on out. Qui-Gon doubts any of the Enforcers got a good look at their faces. He knows they won’t have to worry about the first Enforcer. Qui-Gon’s mind tricks have always been particularly effective. Plus, the first Enforcer’s confusion and ire will only add to the chaos of the situation. He doubts they’ll be caught. Unless…

“Will they be able to track you to your flat?” he asks, voice soft as they cross yet another street. Businesses steadily become sparser as they walk, giving way to residences.

Andra shoots him a nervous look. “They haven’t taken my name before, but- I mean- the Enforcers who patrol the main streets can probably recognize me.”

“If they are able to identify you they will be able to find out where you live.”

The alarm and dismay that spikes through her practically slams against Qui-Gon’s shields. Andra’s face twists as her head lowers, staring at her feet as if they have the answer for where they need to go.

Qui-Gon fights a sigh. Reminds himself that she is the first solid lead they’ve gotten so far. The first person they’ve come across who has no compunctions about speaking out against UniFy.

“Is there somewhere else we could go?”

Andra stares up at him in frustration. “I have research in my flat, though.”

Qui-Gon’s lips purse. He exchanges a look with Feemor.

“We can scout your flat, see if they’ve arrived yet. Perhaps we can salvage some of your things.”

Andra nods, voice a bare whisper. “Okay.”

Turns out, her flat is only a few blocks away. It is tall and fairly nondescript except for the water tower built atop the roof. They slip into a nearby alley.

“There’s another entrance on the roof.” Andra points to the water tower. “I’m one of the only people who uses it. You can get to it from the fire escape or from the roof of the other building. It’s only a small jump.”

“We’ll stay down here,” Feemor says, indicating Chun who’s quite clearly avoiding touching anything at all in the alleyway with a pinched look.

Qui-Gon nods. “Comm me if it looks like there’s trouble. We’ll be as quick as we can.”

Surprisingly, there is no trouble. They climb takes just a few minutes and Andra’s apartment is on the very top floor. Qui-Gon does not bother to inspect the apartment. He’s much more concerned with spreading his senses to see if there are any unwanted visitors within or anyone suspicious nearby. Andra snatches a bag and stuffs a datapad, a handful of datachips and several folders of flimsis into it. Muffled curses reach Qui-Gon’s ears as she gathers as much personal information as she can and a stash of credits.

They make it back down to the street where Feemor still keeps watch and Chun fidgets, eyes darting.

“Is there somewhere else we can go now?” Qui-Gon is loathe to take her back to their ship. He doesn’t want to compromise their mission and presence here more than it already has been.

It’s only a day into their active assignment on Telos.

Qui-Gon does not sigh. He doesn’t.

“There’s a cantina a few streets down. No one there really asks any questions. We all pretty much keep to ourselves around here.” Andra points off down the street. The sun has begun to set by now. Long shadows fall across them like velvet, cutting sharp on corners when they give way to the gaudy sunset.

The next few minutes are spent quietly discussing other options for places to hide if for some reason the cantina doesn’t work out. Miraculously, they make it there without incident. It’s a sprawling place that nonetheless feels cramped. Perhaps because it’s so dark. Or maybe it’s the way the room is hazed with smoke, music and chatter a constant din, pressing in on them. No one even looks up as they enter. It’s fairly crowded, but they find a quiet table tucked away in an even darker corner.

Qui-Gon slides into a seat as Andra hovers by the edge of the table.

“Uhm.” She glances at the bar. “Should I get us something to eat?”

Of course, that’s when Qui-Gon realizes the youngling is no longer with them.

-:-

Xanatos lounges in the most elaborate rooms the facility has. Which really isn’t saying much. At least there’s a modest little sitting room at his disposal. He sits longways on a moderately comfortable sofa, long legs stretched out before him and crossed at the ankle. From here he can see the roiling sea out the broad windows while the entrance to the quarters and bedroom linger in the corner of his eye.

Olau stands in the corner. Sometimes Xanatos wonders how the Ubese can tolerate doing nothing for such long periods while having to be on a constant alert. Occasionally he thinks perhaps he should offer the Ubese a caf or a datapad to peruse. He doesn’t think he could ever be a bodyguard. Boredom comes quick and easy to him. Xanatos must always have something on hand lest he tear his hair out in frustration or his thoughts turn to darker and more painful things.

Frowning at the planet readings on the datapad in his hand, Xanatos flicks to the next text-doc file. Mentally crosses out yet another planet from his list. So far there are a few that have caught his eye, but he’d rather have an extensive list of contingencies if some planets don’t pan out. He needs this project to succeed. He can’t have Sidious disparaging him.

He sneers at the name of the next planet. Jedha’s Kyber crystals are far too protected for any covert excavation. The Guardians of the Whills will likely flay him alive before he even gets close. The only way to mine their crystals would be to take NiJedha by force, and that would bring far too much attention to Xanatos’ ever-growing operation.

He flicks to the next page, irritation curling along his ribs. The Guardians of the Whills. He’d admired them when he was younger, charmed by their mysticism and dedication. How they allowed even non-Force-sensitives into their ranks as long as they showed complete devotion to the way of the Force.

Qui-Gon had shared that admiration, telling Xanatos that after he was Knighted they’d visit. Think of it as a treat, he’d said, smile serene.

But the Council—, he’d protested, anxious hope ready to die on his tongue.

We’ll say it’s an educational mission. Which it will be. Qui-Gon’s eyes had twinkled, warming Xanatos’ heart and calming his nerves.

Now, Xanatos thinks of the Guardians with a bitterness he can’t quite shake. Xanatos is quite sure the Guardians of the Whills are just as foolish and selfish and absolutely self-serving as the Jedi no matter what they say otherwise. Surely anything Qui-Gon admires is nothing worth thinking about.

But he admired you for a time, something traitorous whispers in the back of his head, tickling his thoughts. Admired your skill, your tenacity, your compassion. By your way of thinking, you are nothing of note, either.

Nails bite into the skin of his palm. This is why he needs things to do. Otherwise, he lingers on things that only serve to weaken him.

“Why do you do what you do?”

Xanatos startles, fumbling with the datapadd at the unexpected query. His head snaps towards Olau. Olau practically vibrates with tension and uncertainty. But there’s resolve and curiousity lingering there, too. A certain solemnity lines their words.

Xanatos’ brow furrows, lips pursing. “What do you mean?”

Olau shifts, weight falling to their left foot, head tilting just the slightest. “I have been in your employ for several months now. Ever since I accepted the position I have been trying to understand you.”

Xanatos tenses. He does not like where this is headed. But before he can say anything, Olau surges on, as if with every word they become more sure of themselves.

“At first I thought you were simply ruthless. Ruthless and calculating. Uncaring of how you hurt others. And you certainly can be that. There is no denying it. But then…” They trail off.

Xanatos wants to stop them there. Wants to stop them before they can lay out their thoughts and judge Xanatos like everyone else has in his life. But his lungs feel constricted, like his ribs have decided to strangle him themselves because no else has murdered him. The words don’t even leave his trembling throat, crumbling to chalk. Only bile hits his slow tongue.

“But then,” Olau continues. “I realized something eats away at you. Something drives you more than greed. You’re always so lost and frightened after your nightmares. It’s hard to reconcile the cruel person you can be with the person I see at the start of every morning. The person who fights panic attacks at the memory of his sister and father’s deaths. The person who won’t kill a child even if she tries to kill him. Who would even try to compensate her for her pain, even if she won’t accept it.” Olau straightens, shrugging one shoulder a bit.

“You don’t even really like business meetings! It’s easy to tell once you spend a lot of time in your presence. You think they’re long and tedious, even if you like outmaneuvering everyone and watching them flounder. Most people just aren’t clever enough for you. It’s boring, hardly a challenge.”

Xanatos opens his mouth. Still nothing comes out.

“Yet you find some kind of…satisfaction. Pleasure in your business. Offworld ruins lives. You don’t have to be Force-sensitive to know this planet is dying. You swindle your home planet- the people who adore you. You deal in slavery and with Sith Lords.” Olau practically vibrates by now. Confusion and anguish and some amount of fury spiking through them. It trembles against him, aching, itching. Xanatos wants to scrape away at the inside of his own skull just to alleviate the feeling.

“I just—” Olau bites out, the rasp of their helmet more pronounced in distress. “I just don’t understand you.”

Xanatos stares at them, eyes wide and burning, heart racing, lungs constricted, hand clenching—

“Why are you doing this?!” Qui-Gon cries. “I don’t understand! Xanatos, please! Please talk to me, padawan! I’m here for you!”

“You’re lying! You’re always lying! You don’t want me you never cared!”

“Xani—”

“I told you not to call me that!!

“Then make me understand. Please! I just want to help you!” Anguish radiates across their fraying bond, but Xanatos slams his shields against it. What right does Qui-Gon have to feel such hurt? Xanatos has enough hurt to bring the entire galaxy to its knees.

“No, you’re going to tell me what to do like you always do, like the Council always does! Well, I’ve had enough of doing whatever you say! Of having my life dictated by people who could care less about me!”

With his cheek scalding, fingers blistering, feeling like one giant, festering wound, Xanatos concentrates on that fragile bond between them. Focuses on the carefully woven threads of devotion (pharisaic) and affection (hypocrisy) and trust (lies). Lifts his hand to clench his padawan braid. Imagines a lightsaber in his mind, sparking and frothing— a tumult as furious as the fires surrounding them, just as hot, just as bright, just as ravenously red at the heart. Lifts it high in his mind’s eye. Brings it down— Wrenches—

“You don’t…you don’t really know what you’re doing, do you? You don’t know what you want. You just focus on your pain, trying to justify yourself, your actions. Trying to stop everything from hurting.”

Xanatos can hardly acknowledge the aching understanding in Olau’s voice. Not with fire burning his back, smoke smothering his lungs. Not with Qui-Gon’s twisted face mocking him with every blink.

“You know nothing,” Xanatos gasps. But his voice is weak, croaking, almost a whine.

Olau falters. Xanatos just tries to focus on his breathing. The datapad cracks in his hands.

“I think I do.”

Olau steps forward. Slow, but sure. As if they are approaching a wild animal.

Xanatos bares his teeth in a silent snarl. He was right to think Olau is a weakness. Olau- Olau is—

Olau is a few paces from him. Five. Then three. Two. One. Then they’re kneeling on the floor beside him, hand outstretched despite the way the Force churns about him, all pain and fury and anguish.

“How dare you—” Xanatos chokes out. How did it get to this so quickly? How is it that only a few minutes ago he was calmly searching through his datapad for planets to mine? How is it that he feels like he is about to burstcrumpleshatter apart? How- How is—

“Someone I loved betrayed me, long ago.” Olau’s hand is gentle against his shoulder. “I was—” Their head dips. Olau breathes deep and steady, like they are forcing calm to flow through their veins. “I was not in the best of places. For the longest time I was just numb.” Olau shudders, hand quaking once, twice against him. They shake their head slightly. Breathes deep again.

“Everything was ripped from me. It was as if everything had been a lie. Everyone I knew, everyone I trusted, just— gone. And at the centre of it all…my brother.”

Xanatos’ head jerks, but he doesn’t quite look into the gleam of Olau’s helmet.

Olau continues, voice pained and tight even through the rasp of the helmet. “My brother…He’d been twisted. For years he’d been molded into someone far from his true self. Far from the kind and selfless boy I knew him to be. His confusion and pain and anger had been used to- to warp him. Right under my very nose.” Breath shudders. “It- it was my fault. If I’d only listened. If I’d only—”

Xanatos does turn all the way to look at them now. The words Olau used nags at him. He watches the way their shoulders draw up tight, trembling minutely. The way the Force quakes and roils and constricts about them. Burning red chases the corners of his vision.

“Sidious,” Xanatos breathes. “Sidious was- he turned your brother against you.”

Olau jerks, as if not expecting that. But Xanatos has always been quick to put the pieces together.

Olau hesitates, then their fingers tighten on Xanatos’ shoulder. “Our circumstances are not the same. They never will be. But…Xanatos. You’re allowing your pain to consume you. Allowing it to justify what you’re doing, and…I do not think your path lies down that road.”

Xanatos has no idea what expression is upon his face. He just knows that it pulls at the suddenly searing scar on his cheek. “This is my path,” he snarls, voice breaking. “I am forging my own way, I won’t be anyone’s puppet! Not again!”

The way the Force slumps down on Olau’s shoulders makes him grateful, for once, that he cannot see the Ubese’s face. “But I think you are just that, Xanatos. You’re following the path your father laid before you.”

Xanatos’ eyes burn.

“I think it’s time you figure out what you truly want.”

Chapter Text

Bruck thinks he’s done rather well on this mission, all things considering.

Well, it’s been good up ‘til now.

Bruck scowls as he crawls through the sewers behind the man who’d dragged him into this mess. Sludge cakes his palms and seeps into his trousers. He doesn’t even bother trying to block out the smell now. He rather thinks he’ll be smelling (and Force, smelling like) bantha shavit for weeks after this.

“Not far now, kid!” the man whispers over his shoulder, shaggy blond hair sweat-slick and mussed. “Just have to make it through the rats’ nest—”

“Rats?!”

“No worries.” The man grins. “They’re friendly enough.”

Bruck bites back a moan of despair and shuffles along, cursing himself for ever getting into this situation in the first place. Now he doubts Master Jinn will take him on as apprentice at all. Not if Bruck manages to fail at answering the call of the Force so spectacularly.

Bruck does groan this time, nails scraping the stone beneath in frustration. Just an hour ago everything had been fine. They’d managed to escape those stupid Enforcers and get that woman’s things from her flat. But then…

As the three adults had ambled along further ahead towards the cantina, the low hum of their chatter becoming background noise, Bruck had slowed down. His feet had dragged as exhaustion suddenly sunk into his limbs with the immediate chase and urgency of the day now over. With dusk falling, he’d shivered a bit, tucking his hands into his pockets to stave off the chill that had plagued his bones ever since he put that Sith-damned suppressor on.

Something tugged at his senses.

He’d paused at the entrance of an alley, chills pimpling his arms as he peered into the shadows. A flicker of movement in the corner of his eye had him turning to face the street again, but there was nothing there. He’d frowned, confusion and wariness creeping along his skin, then—

That same tug in his mind. A soft flutter and hum that seemed to murmur, Come.

So he’d glanced back at the small cluster of adults now a full block ahead, their bodies casting long shadows along the ground as they walked. Then looked back into the alley.

Surely it would only take a minute, maybe less, to answer the call of the Force, he’d reasoned. Because that was what this thing inside his head had to be right? The Force? And if he was going to be a Jedi he needed to answer, as any devout follower would.

So he’d stepped forward, hesitant at first, then more sure as he crept along the alley. He’d been tense as he peered at the dumpsters and bits of rubbish scattered along the ground. What was he supposed to be looking for…?

By the time he’d reached the other end of the alley he’d found nothing. Nothing but his own mounting frustration. His hands clenched against his sides as he turned back to the alley, intent on catching up with the Jedi. His mind must have been playing tricks on him.

But as he’d turned, something caught in the corner of his eye once again. This time, it was a bright flash that he couldn’t help but focus on.

Perched on a corner a few streets over was an apartment building. A little older perhaps, but with a patchwork of bright and clashing colours painted along its sides. Bruck stared, eyes darting across natural tan stone to butter yellow and new-dawn pink, to moldy green and rusty orange and neon blue.

What— what could ever possess someone to want to paint their building like that?

Bruck wandered closer, entranced in a horrified way. He couldn’t help but think that Yoda would like the building, as deranged and odd as it looked.

That was, of course, when two people spilled out of the entrance and someone else grabbed his shoulder.

Startled and angry with himself for not noticing the person’s approach, Bruck twisted around, a snarl pulling at his cheeks.

“There you are!” the man said. “Little brother, we must get going!”

“What—?!” Bruck spluttered.

The man was of average height, but certainly much taller than Bruck. And weedy. With a generic face and mussed blond hair that flopped over his forehead. The man smiled down at him, but Bruck could feel the tangle of anxiety-ridden emotion beneath. Could practically smell the sweat beading along the man’s temple.

“Come on, mother will be worried.” The man began to lead Bruck away, in the opposite direction of the splotchy coloured building.

“Let me go!” Bruck snarled. “I don’t know who you think you are, but—!”

“Kid,” the man hissed, leaning closer. “Do me a favour, and shut up. I’m trying not to get arrested here.”

Bruck gaped at him. “What are you—”

“Hey! Stop right there!”

“Damn,” the man hissed, then spun on his heel, dragging Bruck around with him. “What can I do for you, officers?” he greets with a stretched thin smile.

The two who had exited the building jogged towards them. At this distance, Bruck could tell they were Enforcers, like the ones who had chased them before. The woman was glancing between the padd in her hand and the man at Bruck’s side with narrowed eyes.

“It’s him!” the woman cried. “Denetr—”

“Kriff!” The man stepped back “Sorry, kid.” With that, he spun around and darted into another alley, yanking the boy after him.

“What are you doing?!” Bruck screeched, voice embarrassingly high as the man shoved his shoulder into a dumpster to push it aside.

“Trust me!”

“I don’t—”

But then Bruck was falling into a hidden hole and the man was jumping down beside him and hauling the dumpster back over the entrance.

And now he’s here. Crawling through the sewers like some- some sort of criminal and stinking of refuse and- and—

Why do I have to follow you again?” Bruck grouses as a droplet of- of something he doesn’t want to think about splatters on his cheek and trails, slimy, down to his jaw.

The man huffs in front of him, amused and sheepish. “If I left you there they’d take you in for questioning. Do you want your parents to have to come and pick you up? Those things stay on your record. I should know.”

“You should—” Bruck sputters. “Of course,” he grumbles under his breath. He sorely wishes he could trip the man up with the Force. Make him tumble into the rushing watery sludge beside them. But it’s so dark Bruck can hardly see his own hands, and he doesn’t want to lose sight of the only person who knows how to get them out of this mess. Even if that one person is the one responsible for putting them in this Sith-damned mess.

Well, I’m not here with my parents,” he continues, thinking of Master Jinn’s disapproving gaze. “I’m here with my uncle and his friend on vacation, from off planet. They’re here to gamble.”

Bruck can just barely make out the pinched look thrown over the man’s shoulder. “Katharsis, huh?” He huffs, bitterness crawling beneath his presence. “I play myself. Never do win anything, though.”

Bruck bites his lip as they round a corner and head down another cramped tunnel. His heartbeat is suddenly pounding in his ears, nearly drowning out the rushing of the water. Maybe this man can give him information he needs. Master Jinn didn’t tell him exactly what they were investigating. Just corruption, which…

Biting the inside of his cheek until he tastes blood, a sharp tang on his tongue, he shakes his head. No. No, he can’t think about that. Jedi have no attachments. There is no emotion, only peace.

Bruck wants to laugh at the absurdity of that thought. The taste of it bitter as the sound dies ragged in his throat.

He’s always failed miserably at having no emotion. Actually, he’s always failed on pretty much every bit of the Code.

But back when none of his agemates had been taken on as padawans yet, Bruck used to be at the top of his class. But it didn’t come naturally to him. It was so infuriating how long he’d have to spend memorizing the day’s lessons. How long he’d have to spend in meditation just to calm the jumbled chaos in his brain. It was hard to focus. Hard to listen. Hard to slow his movements in the katas when all his body wanted to do was go faster, go harder, go higher.

Lightsaber practice has always been equally relieving and aggravating. It’s so easy to lose himself to the easy dance of each kata. Easy to burn out the pent-up energy in his limbs, easy to just not think for a few hours. Easy to forget that he doesn’t really understand people like his agemates and his teachers. Doesn’t understand how they can just ignore the joy and pain and despair that plagues everyday life.

But then an instructor would interrupt his movements, tell him no not like that Initiate Chun, release your emotions into the Force. You’re not precise enough, the angle is not high enough, your parry too harsh and your footwork lacking. Do it again and do not let yourself feel. Do not succumb to your passion, Initiate.

Before Kenobi left…It’d been such a relief to see his agemate react to his taunts. Such a relief to see little Kenobi’s face scrunch in fury or shame or- Force, tears. Bruck hates himself for it a bit. Hates that he loved goading such shameful reactions out of another. But it was so addicting. Like- like Bruck could finally breathe because here was someone that felt, like him. Someone who wasn’t a pillar of serenity and perfection. Someone who, Bruck could see, struggled just as he did to master every lesson. Someone who clearly enjoyed the impassioned leaps and bounds of Ataru instead of the passivity of Soresu.

Bruck used to look upon Kenobi as a sort of…comrade, maybe. A rival who understood how hard it was to live in the Jedi Order. Even if Kenobi was actually a natural at some things. Even if Kenobi had far more friends, friends who genuinely cared about him instead of the spiteful agemates Bruck spent his time with.

But then Kenobi left.

And Bruck was alone.

Just as he still is. The only Initiate left in his year. Unwanted. Untalented. Left to age out in just a few months. Left to his own desperation as he tries vainly to stay at the top of his class only to fall behind because he has no Master to teach him. Because he finds it more difficult to concentrate with every passing week. More difficult to soothe his anger and despair and let it fade into the Force.

He can’t believe his whole life has led up to this. Led up to failure. He can’t. He won’t let it. This is his last chance, and he can’t blow it.

Because where else would he belong?

Who else would possibly want him?

Narrowing his eyes, unseen, at the man in front of him, he concentrates on the determination churning heavy in his gut. Master Jinn is here to uncover corruption. Well, Katharsis so far seems to be the most corrupted thing on this planet, what with its vicious combat intertwined with the people’s money and a company that funds everything this planet’s citizens seems to care about.

And if this man knows something? He’s going to take advantage of this kriffing situation as much as he can.

So he focuses on that determination hinged with desperation. Focuses on letting his body language soften, his face opening into a wide-eyed innocence that still lingers on arrogance. Lets his voice tremble with naiveté. Even if the man cannot see him, every little bit counts, in his humble opinion.

“Why…why do it? Why gamble on Katharsis? It seems kind of…brutal.”

The man laughs. “Kid, when it’s your own safety on the line, it’s rather easy to bet on someone else’s life. You ever seen a game before?”

Bruck shakes his head, before he realizes that the man can’t see him. Then says, “No. Just what we’ve seen on holofeeds on the street.”

“Well, if your uncle knows what’s best for you he won’t actually take you to the Katharsis Dome. There’s a lot of blood involved. Competitors aren’t allowed medical treatment and a lot of people die. Not something a kid like you should see.” He grunts, comes to a stop.

“Ah- up here, kid. Come on.” They’ve reached a ladder now. Grabbing a rung, the man climbs up the short way onto what looks like a platform, then reaches out a hand for Bruck to take.

Frowning, Bruck grasps the hand and lets himself be hauled up. There’s another tunnel here, the entrance smaller and darker, but much less wet. The man crouches down to start crawling once again and with a grimace, Bruck follows suit. His shoes and trousers squelch unpleasantly.

“The Katharsis Dome?” Bruck echoes. By now he’s lost track of the many twists and turns of the tunnels. When he reaches out his strained senses he can barely make out the mess of city life above him, but he has no idea where Master Jinn and Knight Aylward are. He thinks if he could find the space port if he really tried.

“You know, where the games and betting actually take place?” The man’s voice echoes slightly in the tunnel and he lowers his voice before he continues. “The sporting events need a lot of room, see? And it’s easier when you can actually see who you’re betting on in person. Plus, Katharsis is the most popular Telosian pastime, so…”

“But isn’t Katharsis only a few years old?” Bruck is genuinely curious, despite only really asking in case he learns something important he can tell Master Jinn later.

“Yeah, but it caught on quick. UniFy- oh. You probably don’t know it. It’s this newer company led by our local pretty hot-shot, Lord Xanatos, who seems to be set on restoring our planet. They’ve got their hands in practically everything on Telos, so they rose to the top in less than a year. UniFy does a lot of good around here, I have to admit. Funding charities and fixing the environment and the like. Lord Xanatos proposed a way for the people to fund the restoration of the planet, and Katharsis was created.”

The man quiets for a moment as they shuffle along. Old crust scrapes Bruck’s palms. He’s thankful he’s not any bigger because at least for now he has plenty of room to move around. The man’s shoulders scrap the sides of the tunnel as they crawl.

“Lord Xanatos is our most benevolent benefactor. He’s done a lot for Telos. We’d probably still be warring without him.”

Bruck frowns. “Warring?”

The man sighs, heavy and loud in the dark. “His father used to the Governor. There was a misunderstanding between Telos and a planet from a neighboring system, Toprawa. A Jedi Knight came and supposedly ‘exposed’ the Governor for wanting to start a war. There were riots. It turned into a civil war. Xanatos was appointed the head of the Telosian army. The Governor’s daughter was killed and so was the Governor himself.”

They turn another corner and the tunnel widens slightly.

“Afterwards,” the man continues, “Xanatos rose up to investigate everything that happened and cleared his father’s name. Then he took over his father’s estate and the duties that came with it. He said he felt personally responsible for everything that had happened and wanted to help his people as much as possible.” The man laughs a bit. “And that’s how UniFy started. And Katharsis.”

There’s another long pause as Bruck’s mind races. Is- is this Xanatos responsible for the corruption that Master Jinn and Knight Aylward are investigating? If his father was originally accused of wanting to start a war— especially if a Jedi was the one who accused him in the first place—

“You know, it’s odd,” the man murmurs. “Telosians distrust Jedi now. They blame them for what happened to Telos, for the deaths that happened during the riots. That’s why the Academy here hasn’t been getting much support from the Government since, and yet…” He chuckles. “Xanatos used to be a Jedi himself.”

Bruck chokes on his own breath. “What—?!”

“Yeah, I know! Crazy, right? Telos’ own golden boy a Jedi…I heard that he came with the Jedi that originally screwed everything up. Binn, Jun, Joon, no- Quin? Something? I don’t remember. But the Xanatos used to be the guy’s apprentice.” He laughs again. “Sure had a change of heart, huh?”

“Jinn—?” Bruck’s voice is strangled. A chill shutters his bones, as deathly cold as the one that near froze him to death on that ship, the suppressor clamped tight about his wrist.

“Oh! That might have been it! Ah, well. Even if our little Lord used to be a Jedi, the Government loves him. I heard he has weekly lunch with Governor Pynce, and of course he’s good friends with Treasurer Chun. They worked closely together on the Katharsis project.”

Bruck can’t breathe. Can’t think. Can’t even kriffing move, because- there’s no way—

No way.

“—ey! Kid? We seriously have to move here. We’re almost near the end. Lucky for you, the rats seem to have cleared out since I was down here last.”

Bruck can’t even choke out a snippy retort, all he’s interested in is: “Wh-what did you, uhm. Say the- the name of the Treasurer was?”

“What? Chun? Vox Chun? He’s pretty popular nowadays, too. What with Katharsis and all.”

“Oh,” is all Bruck says. There’s something writhing deep in his breast. Something that pinpricks his lungs and strangles his heart and shatters against his aching ribs. Something that tastes both bitter and sweet on his tongue.

“Oh.”

-:-

Xanatos fights to breathe. Fights to calm the roaring of the Force in his ears. Fights to clear the memory of smoke and fire from his eyes and lungs and the terrible burning on his fingers and face.

“I- I know what I want,” Xanatos stutters out, breath nearly lost. “I- I…”

Olau’s hand is so achingly gentle on his shoulder. Xanatos near wants to cry.

He hates himself for it.

“My father- he showed me,” he chokes out. “I could belong somewhere. I didn’t have to- to pander to the Jedi or grovel for their approval. Their attention. My father wanted me for me,” he snarls, aching hurt shattering his every breath.

“Did he?”

“He did!” Xanatos screams, trembling so violently he fears he might rupture into a thing of hatred and terror, devouring everything in its path with heartless abandon. “He didn’t want to give me up to them! But he did! I remember! He felt he had to, for my sake! So Qui-Gon Jinn took me. From the things I loved most: my father, my sister, my home. No one cared for me at the Temple. No one. They all thought I was- arrogant and foolish. Not worthy of being a Jedi Knight at all,” he spits, face twisted into something terrible. He wants to ignite his ‘sabre. Wants to watch it hiss and spit. Wants to lift it high and bring it down with all his strength. Watch it sink into yielding flesh and burn—

“Xanatos.”

With wild, hazy eyes Xanatos twists to face Olau. Distantly registers his own terrifying visage in the Ubese’s helmet. Sees as Olau very deliberately does not flinch. Does not remove their hand from his shoulder. Only digs their fingers into bone. Grounding. Reassuring, almost. Completely and stupidly stubborn. Resolve flickers steadily beneath the Ubese’s presence. There is not an ounce of pity.

Xanatos both hates and loves Olau for it.

The thought makes him want to retch.

“Xanatos,” Olau repeats, each syllable deliberate on their tongue. “You must not let your fear and hate cloud your judgement. Your father used you, Xanatos. He saw you hurting and knew he was in danger of being exposed. Of all his plans falling to ruin. He saw an opportunity and took it. Now the Jedi…The Jedi may not— Their judgement is not always the best.” Olau seems to steel themself before continuing, tone bitter.

“They’ve become stagnant in their ways and find it difficult to accept other schools of thought. I don’t really know why. Perhaps because they became complacent in the belief that the Sith were gone for good. Complacent because of the feeling of security. Perhaps because they have done much good for the galaxy.”

Xanatos attempts a weak sneer, indignation biting every breath and stuttering every beat of his heart. Because it’s not true. His father loved him. His father wanted him. And the Jedi have done nothing but hurt others. Hurt him.

But Olau plunges on. “I- I cannot say whether or not Qui-Gon Jinn truly cared for you— But Xanatos. I do know this: the Jedi would never deliberately attempt to hurt others. Not the proper Jedi. Not the ones with their hearts set on the Light.”

A raw laugh scrapes Xanatos’ throat. It feels like death and all the wrong ever done to him. “‘Light?’” he echoes. “Oh, how naïve you are, Olau. There is no ‘Light’ or ‘Dark’. Just desire and pain and foolish morality. ‘Good’ and ‘Evil’ are merely concepts our feeble minds came up with to explain what we couldn’t understand. To validate our actions and our beliefs.”

The Ubese stiffens, startled.

 Xanatos’ grin is a wretched thing. “Olau, I could care less about the Jedi now.” (lies, oh is that such a painful lie it claws ruthless at his throat and heart and labouring lungs) “They’ll get what’s coming to them, whether I am involved or not.”

Olau- Force, Olau actually flinches.

And Xanatos- well. Some of the Ubese’s resolve must have seeped into his skin. Must have curled about his heart and given his lungs strength because suddenly- Yes. Olau might make him weak. Might bring out things in him he doesn’t want to confess or even face. But as naïve as Olau is, they are a kindred soul. And maybe, just maybe— They can be stronger together.

Watching the Ubese struggle to reign in whatever sudden and all-encompassing grief has overcome them, Xanatos has the sudden urge to— Force. He feels possessive. Like maybe, just maybe, he can do some right here.

Olau may have the audacity to question Xanatos’ motivations to his face. They may have the audacity to completely wreck his sense of calm. Even if indignation and rage threaten to burst from him with nearly every uttered word— it’s bizarrely, addictingly enticing. The Ubese’s grief and determination and unflinching opinion is endearing in the strangest way.

Xanatos feels their suffering tremble against his own. Thinks: Yes. There might be a way.

Qui-Gon Jinn, however.” Xanatos revels in the name, even though it’s unbearably bitter on his tongue. “He I will personally enact my revenge upon. He will rue the day he ever heard my name.” His voice hisses, resentment spitting sparks. “He betrayed me willingly, and has done his best to hurt me in the worst of ways.” He pauses, lip curling, and reaches out to put his own hand on Olau’s shoulder. Takes strength in the resolve that has steadied him now. “Like Sidious has done to you.”

Xanatos rather fancies that Olau’s eyes widen.

“Is your brother the apprentice he spoke of? The one in training?”

Olau sputters. An unfamiliar fondness warms Xanatos’ aching breast.

“No. No not- not now. He’s—” Olau’s hand spasms.

“I can help you,” Xanatos says, earnest. “I can help you get revenge. Sidious is a vile man, one who takes pleasure in others’ misfortunes and tricks people into creating their own demise. I hold no love for him. Together, we could destroy him. Hunt his apprentice down, take revenge for you brother, too.”

Xanatos just knows that Olau gapes at him.

“That’s not—” Olau begins, then tries again. “You mean to usurp him? And what? Become a Sith? Rule the galaxy in his stead?” There’s slightly hysterical laughter in their voice.

Xanatos’ grin sharpens, deadly. “Perhaps. Offworld is ever expanding, ever strengthening. I doubt it would take very many years to dismantle whatever he webs he has spun.” Yes, Sidious is terrifying but, thinking of his new project, of the way Sidious mocks him— Xanatos is confident he could take the man down given the proper amount of motivation, resources and cunning.

“I have felt how powerful you are in the Force, Olau. Surely you must realize your presence is like a blazing star. It’s obvious you’ve had at least some training. Together, we might overthrow those who have done us wrong. You can help me kill Qui-Gon Jinn, and I will help you kill the man that turned your brother against you.”

“That’s not- Xanatos! This won’t help you. All you’ll be doing is perpetuating the Darkness and suffering in the galaxy! I asked you before what you want— Xanatos, is this truly what you desire?”

“Yes,” Xanatos bites out, utterly vicious, nails biting into the fabric of Olau’s cloak.

Frustration trembles just beneath the Ubese’s presence. “Then tell me why you willingly enslave others. Why you deceive your people, the people who love and respect you. Why you steal their money only to ruin your own planet! What is the point?

“The point,” Xanatos snarls, “is to make a difference.”

“A difference with what?”

“So everyone knows I’m not worthless!”

Xanatos abruptly lets go of Olau, wrenches out of their reach, effectively pressing himself into the tight corner of the sofa. Tries to catch his breath, but shame kills it. Damn Olau. He’s unsteady again. It’s as if every time he manages to get a secure foothold in the conversation he only slips up again.  It’s infuriating, nearly humiliating. But he wants to make Olau understand, even if no one else will.

“You’re not worthless.”

Xanatos jerks, not quite a flinch. Olau’s voice is so very quiet. Feather-light, but painful all the same.

“I know,” Xanatos spits. “That’s why I took responsibility for my father’s actions. That’s why I built up my company to stretch to as many planets as I can reach. No one is safe from my influence. In their arrogance, they’ll think they’re safe, and by the time they realize they aren’t, I’ll already have control of their planets.”

“But that’s not taking responsibility! You’re just continuing your father’s reign of tyranny and corruption!Olau’s voice is actually raised now, frustration quaking into fury. “It makes you no better than Sidious! This hardly makes any sense at all, Xanatos! There are other ways to prove your worth if you feel you must! What good does it do anyone to destroy other people’s lives? You could be helping them instead of going along with this farce.”

Rage trembles along his bones. Xanatos won’t let himself feel regret or shame. He can’t. He’s come too far. If he questions everything he’s done up until now, then what would all those years of hardship and suffering have been for?

“You’ll see.” Xanatos’ voice is ice. “I will prove to you that I am right, and then you will understand.”

 “No, Xanatos.” Olau sounds utterly miserable. “I won’t.”

He thinks of Qui-Gon. Thinks of the way he used to smile at Xanatos with such joy, tenderness softening his face. Of the way Qui-Gon tucked him into bed at night when he was small and aching for a home he had just lost. Of the way Qui-Gon himself eventually became home. Became someone he could not help but wish to make proud.

Xanatos thinks of how it had all been a lie. How Qui-Gon let his sister die. How he killed his father. How he betrayed him. How he dare even bring Xanatos back to his home planet at all.

Maybe if that hadn’t have happened, Xanatos would be still be a Jedi. Would perhaps even be sitting in Qui-Gon’s apartment now, watching as the man fussed over his plants and grumbled as Xanatos teased him about his cooking. How he’d finally prove himself to be on the same level as the brilliant Feemor Aylward, the man who infuriated Xanatos with how polite and perfect he could be. Perhaps Xanatos would even have the chance to embarrass his old Master in front of a new little brother-padawan.

It is an image Xanatos cannot bear to linger on for long.

Xanatos sneers, indignant protectiveness writhes against his ribs. Little Olau has been hurt as Xanatos has, and they do not even know how to right the wrongs that have twisted them into this grieving passivity. “You will, Olau. In time, you will understand. Until then, you must simply stay by my side. And you will, won’t you?” It is hardly a question, more of an affirmation of an unshakeable fact.

Olau is silent for a long, pained moment. Despair curdles about them, which is equally satisfying and upsetting, but Xanatos stays his tongue. Then, Olau ducks their head.

“Yes,” they whisper, quiet and hoarse. “I will be by your side until I no longer can.”

Xanatos bites the soft inside of his cheek. “Good,” he says, clipped and knife-sharp. Lifts the forgotten datapad to stare unseeingly at its cracked surface. “Now, I must continue this wretched search.”

Olau stays kneeling by his side, hovering almost. On the brink of shattering, but Xanatos does not let himself question why. He squashes the urge to curl his legs into his chest, hold the warmth of his own body to his heart and roiling gut.

Resignation practically drowns Olau, but the Ubese does eventually stand and make their way back to the far corner.

Xanatos, too, eventually manages to actually read the text in front of him. But it won’t be for a long and tense hour yet, and by the time it does happen, Xanatos still swears he can smell the stink of his father’s burning flesh.

Chapter Text

“Something must have happened to him. What if he’s lost or hurt or—”

“Feemor,” Qui-Gon cuts in, hushed but firm. “Your worry is clouding your mind. You must focus on the here and now. Flush your anxiety into the Force and calm your breaths. Take comfort in the Force. You cannot afford to be distracted on this mission.”

Feemor stares at him with conflicted eyes, anxiety creasing the corners of his mouth. It makes him appear far older than he actually is. They’ve returned to the cantina after searching the building’s premises and then the surrounding streets, going so far as to sweep the surrounding two kilometres of neighborhood. They’d reached out with the Force, tried to sense the youngling’s still erratic and pained signature.

But found nothing.

Andra huddles by the bar counter, ordering food and glancing their way every now and then. Her hands clutch her bag strap.

Qui-Gon pulls Feemor further into the shadows of their booth, helping guide the younger man’s efforts to soothe his jittery nerves and release his excess emotion into the Force.

When Feemor has calmed somewhat, he breathes out long and steady. Briefly closes his eyes. Opens them again. “He’s just a youngling, Qui-Gon. He was never meant to be here. What if he never makes it back to the Temple? It will be on our heads and our heads alone.”

“You’re forgetting he knows where the space port is. He’ll be able to find his way back to the ship even if he cannot find us.”

Worry creases Feemor’s brow again. “But what if something happens in the meantime? If he really can find his way back to the ship, shouldn’t we head back there now?”

But Qui-Gon is already shaking his head. “We cannot risk Andra being seen again, and we cannot risk them knowing our involvement with her. For now, this is the safest place. We’ll have to bring her back to the ship later tonight when the most the Enforcers will be concerned with are the rowdy crowds from the Katharsis Dome and the surrounding cantinas.”

Feemor not-quite-glares into his lap. “I still do not like the thought of him out there all alone.”

Biting back a sigh, Qui-Gon settles back into his seat. “If the youngling listened to our warnings at all, he will rely on his instincts and the Force. You must remember, Feemor, all is as the Force wills it. If Initiate Chun is meant to make it out of this safe and unharmed, then he will.”

Feemor grimaces. “Do you truly believe that?” he asks, even though he said something similar to Bant not two days earlier.

Qui-Gon smooths his face into some resemblance of serenity. “Yes. I do.”

He must. It is the only thing that explains the insanity of the events that happened here on Telos those years ago. He must believe it is the will of the Force because there must be some reason why Xanatos left him. Why Xanatos shredded their sacred training bond and ripped his padawan braid from his own skull. Why the boy renounced everything he knew and spat at Qui-Gon- Qui-Gon who had only ever loved him- that he hated his Master.

Qui-Gon has learned by now not to let love blind him. Has learned not to linger on the things of the past otherwise he might drown in his own pain and sorrow.

Love is a dangerous thing, and it does no good to dwell on things that have already come to pass. They are already over and nothing can be done to change them.

Feemor’s eyes skitter over his face, like the young man is searching for something, but Qui-Gon cannot know what. Perhaps does not wish to know what.

“Here,” Andra says, clunking two plates of steaming food onto the table, juggling with three tankards of drink before managing to get them out from where they’re nestled in the crook of her arm. “I wasn’t sure what you’d like so I got some seedbread and meatalo.” She slides into the seat next to Feemor, offering him the creditchip they’d given her. If Andra uses her own she might be traced.

Feemor’s face twists for the briefest second, still focused on Qui-Gon. Then he glances up at her with a smile. “Thank you,” he says, voice nothing but kind, and takes the proffered chip to slip it back into his pocket.

Andra reaches out to grab a small loaf of bread and nibbles on it nervously. “What now?”

Qui-Gon and Feemor exchange a glance before Qui-Gon speaks. “How about first you tell us everything you know about UniFy and Katharsis.”

-:-

“Sure am glad I didn’t go into work today,” Bruck’s companion mutters as he peeks out the window of the deserted building they’re taking shelter in. It’s somewhere in the middle of downtown, he told Bruck. Near the Katharsis Dome, actually. One of his hideouts in case his ‘activities’ go belly-up.

Luckily the building boasts several different rusty spigots, so Bruck has already stripped to wash the worst of the sewer slime and smell off. He spent even longer wringing his clothes out under the chilly stream of water, scrubbing at the muck with revulsion curling his lip. For those long minutes he’d been able to lose himself to the rhythmic scrub scrub scrub, attempting to calm his mind and enter a light meditation. He’d been able to dump just a little bit of erratic emotion into the Force. But as usual, he wasn’t very successful.

Especially now, with shame and fear and hope near stealing his every breath. Lurking along the fringes of thoughts. Pressing down on him, becoming heavier and heavier with every passing minute until he thinks he can’t- can’t—

“What’s your name, kid?”

Bruck flinches from where he sits curled against a wall, blinking as he turns unfocused eyes to his companion. He trembles with cold, clothes still near-soaked even after wringing all the water he could out of them. There’s nothing else to wear, forcing him to put them back on. The dark blue of the shirt looks near black, and once it’s dried he doubts the colour will be as pleasing as before. His boots still squelch with every step, toes numb with cold.

“Wha?” Bruck says blearily. Exhaustion once again trembles through his limbs. He just wants to sleep, but he knows he needs to stay awake. Needs to still get information. Needs to not drop his guard around this man.

The man huffs a laugh. “Your name. You can call me Den.”

Bruck frowns, then nods. “I’m—” Stops. Takes a moment to think. To push himself past Chun Chun Chun. Says, “I’m Tyrus.”

Den snorts outright. “Tyrus?” Sniggers again. “Suits you.”

Scowling, Bruck rocks a little in a feeble attempt to bring some life back to his limbs. It’s no use, and he resigns himself to standing up, though his knees threaten to buckle. He’s been on the move all day with two desperate chases. He’s quite ready to be done. With a loud sigh, he leans against the wall.

“Why are you on the run, anyhow? What did you do?” Bruck can’t help the snap to his voice. There’s too much pent-up energy trembling in his limbs, even if he’s exhausted. So he settles for tapping his toe. That doesn’t feel quite satisfying enough so he starts knocking his heel on the wall at his back.

Moving away from the window, Den scratches the back of his head, sheepish. “Ah, well. I maybe picked my apples from the wrong tree.”

“What?”

“I get hired at companies, steal information, quit before I’m caught, then sell it, kid. And I thought I could do it with UniFy, but obviously that was a mistake.”

Bruck stares. “You…you stole data from UniFy?”

Den scowls, then drops into a crouch and plants his ass on the floor. “Well, I haven’t yet. But that’s the only reason I can think of why they’d send Enforcers after me. They must have found out I’ve done it before. Lucky for me, I wasn’t feeling very well this morning and called in sick, and a coworker sent me a message asking why the higherups were looking for me.”

Bruck slumps. “You don’t have anything at all?”

Den frowns at him, confused. “No? I just said…” Then he squints at him, suspicious. “Why are you interested anyway?”

Fighting quiet panic, Bruck scoffs. “You just told me you steal data from companies for a living. Of course I’m interested!”

Still frowning, Den slowly nods. “Yeah, well I doubt I’ll be able to do it anymore. Definitely not on Telos, and probably not even in this system. If UniFy sent Enforcers after me I’m going to have to get off this planet. And quick. I’m not keen on spending the rest of my life in prison.”

“You’d spend the rest of your life in jail?”

Den grimaces. “If you’re up against UniFy? Yes. They may be doing a lot of good around here, but that’s just even more reason to put away anyone who opposes them, never mind that they’re pretty powerful.”

Bruck pauses in the middle of tapping his heel. Wait. There’s- he can use this. There might be a way of salvaging this miserable situation.

“So…You need a way off planet?” He tries for casual, but the short-breathed excitement is too much and he utterly fails.

Den narrows his eyes at him, the suspicion back full force. “Yes….?”

“My uncle could give you a ride off planet.”

“I can hear an ‘if’ in there, kid.”

Bruck smirks. “If you can give us some information.”

Scowling, Den leans forward, intent. “I told you. I’ve got no information.”

Smug, Bruck crosses his arms, smirk widening. “But you can get some. You know your way around the company if you’ve been working there for a while. You’ll know where to look and probably what to look for. The way I see it, you’re the best man for the job.”

Den’s brows furrow even further. “I didn’t know there was even a job to be had. Not beyond my own plans. Why would you even need the information, kid?”

Bruck considers this for a moment. He can’t really tell Den exactly who he is and what they’re doing here. But he has to tell the man something, otherwise this will all be for nothing.

“My uncle and his friend…They’re actually here on business. Not gambling. They need some information on UniFy. Their employers suspect that the company is involved with…less than legal activities.”

“And they took you, a child, with them,” Den says dubiously, brow raised.

Bruck smiles beatifically. The very picture of innocence. “That’s right. Thought I’d be a good way to put them off their scent if UniFy figured out someone was trying to steal data.”

“Riiight. And why should I stick my neck out for you when I can probably smuggle myself off this planet anyway?”

Because, we can pay you double what you’d get normally for that information.” He thinks. “We’ll get you off the planet safe and quick. And if our operation works out and UniFy is exposed, you’d be able to come back home. Maybe you’ll even be lauded as a hero.” Bruck winks.

Den laughs, loud and incredulous. “You sure are something, kid. Listen, I admire your spunk, but I can’t trust you. I don’t know if you’re telling the truth and if I go back to UniFy I might get caught. Can’t risk it.”

Bruck grinds his teeth in frustration. “I am telling the truth. Den, this is important. UniFy is doing some really bad things and we’ve got to stop them!”

“‘Really bad things?’ Are you listening to yourself? What bad things? They’ve done so much—”

“I don’t know okay?!”

Den stares, a little wary, as Bruck pants. There’s that jittery trembling crawling just beneath his skin again. Every breath aches. He wants to scream and scream so he doesn’t burst at the seams.

“I don’t know the details. I- I wasn’t supposed to come along. But I did. And they didn’t really tell me anything but I can figure things out for myself, thanks. UniFy is at the centre is something bad. Don’t you wonder why they’re supposedly funding everything? Why UniFy’s in charge of your sacred places and you’re barred from seeing them? And Katharsis. It’s sick,” he spits. “Why bet on human life like that? Why watch people fight and compete and die?”

“Look, kid—”

“It’s awful,” Bruck snarls. “That’s awful.” Jedi are supposed to value all life. Including the worst of people, even if they don’t want to. This is something that Bruck has struggled with in the past- still struggles with, if he’s honest. Because how can someone who hurts others possibly be worth anything? People who hurt others deserve to be hurt themselves.

Even- Bruck grimaces- himself. There is no excuse. None. Unless the person in question deserves it.

Bruck has wondered if this is why he doesn’t have a Master yet. If this is his punishment for all those years of tormenting Kenobi.

It probably is.

Bruck has had a lot of time to think about it since Kenobi disappeared. Since his agemates started getting picked, and then he was the only one left.

There has to be some reason why he’s not good enough.

And maybe that’s why.

(he can’t let himself think there’s actually something wrong with him)

(if he did he’s not sure what he’d do)

“Please,” Bruck begs, voice breaking shamefully. “Please help me.”

Den stares, scrutinizing for a long, tense minute. Then he slumps, breath leaving him in a great whoosh. “Aaagh, Mother of Kwath! Fine. I’ll do it! But you better pay me triple! And I better get off this planet safe and sound, you got that?”

Hope flutters in Bruck’s breast. He ignores the burning tears in his eyes. “You’ve got a deal.”

-:-

There’s a riot on one of the Deepsea mines.

At first Xanatos feels it as a disconcerting flicker at the edge of his senses. Almost an itch. Olau actually twitches. But Xanatos is nearly done with his list of planets so he ignores it to continue on. It is near dinner time by now so he might as well finish before then. Plus he could use the extra time to centre himself before he must speak with Olau again. He still feels unsettled, off-kilter. In all honesty, he doesn’t really want to speak with Olau again today, but he must. It’s not like he can just storm off without saying a word. A bodyguard and their employer must communicate in order for everything to go smoothly.

So it starts with the flicker which he ignores. Then it’s the muffled shouting outside, way beneath the window. Then the rush of feet down the corridor not two seconds later and a frantic knock at the door before a familiar Arcona bursts into the room in a flurry of chaotic anxiety.

“L-Lord Xanatos!” the Arcona pants. “Th-there’s a riot in one of the Deepsea mines. We’ve contacted Jemba but we thought you should know!”

Xanatos scowls. Just what he needs.

Pauses.

Actually, this might be exactly what he needs. A little way to vent frustration. A reminder of the validity of his own authority. None of this regretting shavit. Nothing to remind him of Qui-Gon or the Jedi. Just some old-fashioned reassertion of power.

He can do that.

“I’ll handle the situation.” Swiftly he stands, dropping the datapad carelessly on the sofa. He fingers the lightsaber on his belt briefly, then strides over to the hook by the door to grab his coat. Olau is, of course, right behind him tingling with apprehension.

“M-my Lord?” the Arcona stutters, confused and wringing their hands.

“Prepare transport,” Xanatos snaps, already out the door as he shrugs into dark cloth.

“O-of course!” There’s a faint beep as the Arcona mutters frantically into a comm.

By the time they make it to the foot of the building, there’s a transport waiting. A rather shifty-looking Meerian, a true native of Bandomeer, sits behind the yoke. His hair is a dull silver to match his pupiless eyes, and he’s certainly on the smaller side as all Meerian are.

Without a word, Xanatos slides into the back with Olau right behind him. The Meerian mumbles something and they’re off down to the shore then across the roiling sea. Their destination, as it turns out, is the second closest mine. As they speed closer it looms over them, fat and aching and absolutely aloof to chaos of the sea about it. Frigid metal remains stoic in the face of high, churning waves. Sea-spray splatters and foams, giving the false illusion of the mine as a rabid animal, squatting and huddled about its prey.

Each mine houses several hundred workers, all slaves under a five-year contract that none of them signed and will most likely not live to see through. The guards are Imbats. Giant, ghastly things that tower even over Xanatos’ incredible height. They aren’t very intelligent, but eager to assert their own meagre authority and quick to violence. Perfect for Xanatos’ needs.

They can hear the shouting from the landing platform, as well as the hum and bursts of electro-jabbers.

“Wait here,” Xanatos snaps at the pilot, then slides elegantly out and makes his way to the nearest door.

Inside is utter chaos.

But it is nothing less than he expected.

An Imbat careens past him, bellowing and flailing his electro-jabber. Xanatos effortlessly evades the sparking weapon. Rolling his eyes, he darts forward and jabs an elbow into an attacking worker’s temple. The man goes down without a sound and does not get back up.

“Pull yourself together,” Xanatos barks at the Imbat. “Honestly.”

The Imbat grunts, shaking his head to clear it, then charges forward again to catch another rioting worker unawares.

“My Lord,” Olau pipes up from his shoulder.

Xanatos peers down at them, slightly caught off guard by the reminder that his bodyguard is so small, especially in comparison to the Imbats.

“Are you sure you should involve yourself in this?”

Xanatos scowls. “Yes.” Reaching down, he unclips the lightsaber from his belt. Feels the comforting weight of it in his palm. Flicks it on with a familiar snap hiss. Revels in the flash of igniting, hot scarlet, the hum in his bones, the bloody cast of light in the hall. “Yes, I am quite sure.”

Most slaves run as soon as they catch sight of the flickering crimson in his hand. Their faces contort from determination into horror and fear. They shout and scramble back, or go dead quiet and immediately kneel in subservience, all the fight gone from their bones.

So terrified are they, that Xanatos actually rarely uses his ‘sabre. Some workers don’t see him coming and all Xanatos has to do is thrust out a hand, curl the Force cruelly about them, then slam them into the floor or the wall or even the ceiling. Knocking them out cold.

He’d rather have live workers than dead ones, if he’s honest.

Anyone who sees him and decides to attack, fury and desperation twisting their faces and roiling about them as they rush forward— Well. Olau takes care of them with a stun bolt before they can get within ten paces of them.

It takes a depressingly short amount of time to subdue everyone. Xanatos suspects that in the middle of the chaos some reinforcements must have finally arrived. By the end there are bodies, both living and dead, littering the halls and barracks. The workers may have outnumbered them, but they are nothing compared to the Force.

“How did this happen?” Xanatos demands, facing the disgruntled Imbat in charge. They’re standing just outside the doorway to the main barracks. Imbats pass by them every so often, grumbling as they drag still living workers in the room to carelessly dump on the floor. There are a few slaves working beside them, eyes downcast and shoulders up around their ears as they haul their fellow prisoners. Those up and moving are still sorting through the bodies, taking the dead ones to throw over the railing and into the sea.

The particularly raucous prisoners, the ones who refused to back down, have already been thrown to their deaths.

Xanatos did not let himself watch as they fell, but their screams still ring in his ears.

“They must have been planning it,” the Imbat rumbles, fists twitching in frustration. “They ambushed some of our guards in the commissary and took their weapons. Perhaps if you give us control of the electro-collars—”

Xanatos huffs in irritation, fingering the dormant ‘sabre on his belt. “You know I cannot do that. If you controlled the collars and the rebellion had actually succeeded, then we’d have a much bigger problem on ours hands.” His lip curls and he steps forward, tilting his head to meet the Imbat’s eyes. “They would have gotten out of the collars and escaped. Then they could have gone to our other facilities and freed our workers there.”

The Imbat’s ears pull back.

“If we gave you that control,” Xanatos hisses, “then you would be out of a job, my dear Imbat. Would you want that?”

The Imbat snarls silently, then ducks and turns his head away. “No, Lord Xanatos.”

Xanatos sneers. “I’m glad you see things my way.”

Someone stumbles in the corner of his eye. Xanatos half-turns, sneer still twisting his lip, and watches as a Meerian with blood caked in his dusty bronze hair falters under the weight of a scrawny Talz. The Meerian shakes as he tries to haul the Talz over his shoulders, only to let out a small cry of pain and drop to his knees.

A nearby Imbat also notices and starts forward with a snarl, raising his electro-staff menacingly.

But then Olau darts forward, lifting a hand to wordlessly stop the guard. They kneel beside the slave but are careful not to touch him. “Are you not going to give them medical attention?” It’s quite clear the question is aimed at Xanatos.

Xanatos scoffs. “Why?”

Olau does not look over their shoulder, eyes only for the slave. “They’re living beings and deserve medical treatment.” Something ugly twists about them. “Plus they’ll be of no use to you if they die from their injuries.”

Xanatos scowls. “I’ll have to search for more workers to replace the deceased, anyway.”

Olau gently guides the Talz’s limp body so it’s supported between the both of them instead of bearing down solely on the Meerian’s shoulders. “Treating them will cost less. You will have fewer slaves to both buy and break in.” Revulsion underlines their words, and well as resentment.

Olau’s confession that they’d once been a slave rises in the back of Xanatos’ mind. Quiet whimpers echo in the barracks behind them as the slaves begin to wake. Disorientation filters out the doorway, tasting muzzy on Xanatos’ tongue. Their piercing despair prompts an answering throb in his temple.

Olau murmurs quietly to the Meerian as sickening shame churns Xanatos’ stomach. He bites the inside of his cheek bloody. Quiet rage trembles in his throat.

Then Olau stands with the Meerian, their movements slow as they lift the Talz.

Xanatos blinks, infuriating emotions and thoughts forgotten as he stares.

Meerians are naturally small creatures, ranging from just above toddler height to an average human woman’s height. When dealing with taller species, they oftentimes use repulsorlifts, preferring to speak to others eye-to-eye. Meerians believe that speaking to someone on their own eye level means you are equals.

Obviously, the few Meerian slaves here cannot indulge in such luxuries, and so they stand far shorter than anyone else here. Certainly, far shorter than Xanatos himself. This Meerian stands on the taller side of his species’ spectrum, but he’s…taller than Olau. By a number of centimetres.

Xanatos certainly knew Olau was short, but this—

The smallest Ubese are the same height as the tallest Meerians.

Olau and the Meerian shuffle along, taking the Talz to the barracks. As they pass, Xanatos cannot help but compare his height to both Olau and the Meerian. Can’t help but notice how the Imbat totally dwarfs his little bodyguard, over twice the Ubese’s height.

Though, Xanatos supposes, he’s always suspected that Olau is not actually an Ubese. A faint frown turns his lip, brows furrowing just the slightest. Something about this just…doesn’t feel right. Xanatos stares at his bodyguard. Takes in the slim shoulders, the slight chest, the tiny delicate hands. It’s easy to forget exactly how small his companion is after months of being constantly reminded of Olau’s competency.

Are you going to send medics, my Lord?”

Xanatos doesn’t startle, but it is a near thing. He turns back to the Imbat. “Perhaps.” Glancing back at Olau as they disappear through the doorway, Xanatos’ frown deepens.

“Perhaps.”

-:-

“Are you sure we have to do this now?” Bruck whispers, the beginnings of a headache spiking behind his eyes.

“Yes,” Den hisses back. “Ah, wait…Now!”

They dart down the corridor when the security guard turns the corner. Pausing by a door, Den nervously taps a code into the lock. It squeals out a little beep and the door clicks. Den takes no time at all to push it open and slip inside, Bruck right on his heels. The room is full of computer terminals. Den hurries over to the nearest one as Bruck quietly shuts the door behind them.

“Is this going to work?” Bruck asks, dubious. He rubs at his wrist absentmindedly, flinches, then worries at the hem of his shirt with twitchy fingers. He’s just glad he could take a short nap before they set out, otherwise he knows he’d be dead on his feet.

“Of course!” Den replies, exasperation huffing out. “We’ve gone over this, kid. It’ll be fine.”

They have gone over the plan. Multiple times in fact, looking for any weaknesses. Den figures that if UniFy has already sent people after him, then the place they will least expect him will be back in his old workplace. Luckily, Den knows how to loop security feeds through a quick virus via an innocuous hallway access port. Den also already swiped one of his co-worker’s access cards for just such an occasion. He told Bruck he always did it at every company he worked at. If he needed to steal information or get back into a building after he’d already quit, it would be less likely he would be incriminated.

“Okay,” Bruck mutters.

Den starts up the terminal, then roots around the desk for a spare datachip. “All else fails, I can transfer the data to my private account. It’ll take more time, but- Ah!” He brandishes a datachip in the dim light. “Got one.”

“Good.” Bruck moves to hover by the door and listens for anyone passing by.

The terminal hums quietly as Den slices into the database, searching for any fraudulent transactions and shady plans. The man grumbles. “This is taking too long. It’ll be all night before I find exactly what you want, and by then we’ll be caught.”

Bruck scowls. “Well do something.”

Den huffs, then fumbles around the desk again. Grumbling, he reaches over to the neighboring station, finds a few more datachips and snatches them up. “I’ll just have to dump all the information onto these and we can sort it out later.”

Bruck gapes, eyeing the tiny devices. “You’re not serious, you’ll never fit everything on there.”

Den flashes him a smirk. “That’s what you think. I’ve been in this business for a while, Tyrus. These things can hold a lot of information.” He slips the chips into the last open ports. “Plus, I’ll be sending some of the data to my private server, too. It’s at the hideout we were at last.”

Scowling, Bruck turns away. “If you’re sure.”

“Quite sure.”

There’s a few more seconds of silence, but Bruck feels the urge to say something, anything else. Maybe so Den knows exactly what’s at stake here if he doesn’t succeed in slicing all of the information they need.

“You’re doing the right thing, you know. With your help, my uncle will be able to expose UniFy for everything they’ve done.”

“Well, all I gotta say is that you better be right about this. Like I said before, my head is on the line here if you don’t get me off this planet safe and sound.”

Bruck crosses his arms, indignation swelling in his breast. He blinks back the itch in the back of his head, scowling. “Don’t you worry about that.”

Den only grumbles inaudibly in response.

Bruck hears the guard on patrol pass twice before Den is done. It must be past midnight by the time they slip back out of the room and creep down the corridors again. The UniFy headquarters is in the very middle of Thani, just a few blocks from the Katharsis Dome, in fact. When Bruck peers out the window he can see the giant curve of the structure lit up in the night like a small, shining moon buried right in the middle of the capital. The twinkling lights of the surrounding city could almost pass for stars.

They manage to avoid all the guards on the way down to street level, taking the staircases and slipping back into the corridors whenever they hear the echo of footsteps.

“You really owe me for this, Tyrus,” Den breathes as they tuck themselves behind a corner, waiting for another guard to pass before they can escape the building. “Triple pay, remember?” He pats the datachips in his pocket. They clink together quietly.

“Of course,” Bruck replies, grinning and near giddy, the back of his mind prickling oddly. After this, surely Master Jinn will take him on as a padawan. Bruck has done more than prove himself with this. All on his own. He’s rather glad he didn’t take Den back to the ship. Not only could it have put a spotlight on the Jedi if he and Den were discovered, but they could have wasted valuable time, and Master Jinn might have refused to even consider Bruck’s idea. “We’ll pay you more than you can even imagine.” He glances up at Den, and the man flashes him a cautious smile back.

Then there’s a soft sigh, and a melodious voice cuts through the gloom. “Pity.”

Before Bruck can even so much as twitch, there’s a blur across his vision, a sickening smack and crack, and Den’s body slumps to the floor. His head severed from his neck.

Bruck stares, dangerdangerdanger now a chaotic riot in his mind. He blinks to clear the hot scarlet from his eyes. There’s a splatter across his cheek, his forehead, even against his teeth. Sometimes drips over his shoulder and down his arm, tickling the inside of his elbow. Den’s head tumbles to crack against the floor, rolling sluggishly so only one half of his face is visible. The white of his eye stark in the light filtering through the window.

Something scrapes raw in Bruck’s throat, terrible and frightening and he’s scrambling back, white noise in his ears, heart poundingstutteringdying as he flashes hot then numb then coldcoldcold with bright spots that burn against his cheek and throat and arm oh Force what- what is—

Someone steps out from the other side of the corner. The sword is still embedded in the wall. Bruck stumbles over his own feet, tumbles to the ground just like Den’s head just like—

Someone’s screaming high and shrill and cracked but it’s certainly not the woman now eyeing the body at her feet. She does not cast a second glance at the spray of glistening crimson, only tugs her sword free from the wall and sighs.

“I do not like to do this in front of children.” Her eyes cut to him, inky and terrifying. Like bottomless pits or hungry, gaping black holes ready to devour everything that dares stray near them. “But it was unavoidable.”

Bruck can’t gasp in enough breath.

She tuts, the tentacles dangling from her jaw fluttering delicately. Then she bends to root through Den’s pocket and pull out the handful of datachips. “I have been watching you on the security feeds,” she says mildly, studying the chips in her hand. The sword hangs loose by her side, dripping dark against the shining steel floor.

“Simple viruses like looping don’t work on our cameras anymore. Not after I became head of security and upgraded our entire system. I knew you were here as soon as you entered the building. But I needed to know what you were after first, and who exactly Denetrus was working for. I monitored his activity in the database and from your conversation, well…”

She does look at him this time, eyes threatening to swallow him whole. “I gather you are the one behind this rather foolish plan. Denetrus is useless to me now. You have all the information I need.” Footsteps utterly silent, she slinks closer, far more predatory than anything Bruck has ever seen.

“I believe you mentioned something about an uncle?”

Chapter Text

“You are lucky that it is not in my profession to torture children.”

Bruck juts his jaw, clenching his fists as he tries to ignore the tremor down his spine. Even if this woman says that, she obviously has no problem killing. He gulps, tries to blink away the memory of hot scarlet and a lolling head, one stark white eye staring up up up at him—

The Khil leans closer and Bruck fights the urge to back away from those constantly trembling tentacles. “Though if you try to escape,” she says, voice cold and sharp, “I have no qualms using any means necessary to take you down. Do you understand?”

Bruck stares into her black, black eyes. His reflection stares back, vulnerable and pale. He just wants to sleep. Wants to rest his exhausted body and mind. Wants to lose himself to the safety of oblivion and wake up to find it’s all been a horrible, terrible dream.

“Do you understand?”

Bruck nods quickly, not quite finding the will or even the ability to speak.

The Khil studies him, eyes sharp and all-consuming. Finding whatever she was searching for, she straightens, then gestures for someone in the doorway to step forward without turning her eyes away from him.

A guard enters the tiny room Bruck has been in for the past several hours. He thinks it might be morning by now but he’s not sure. There aren’t any windows. Just cold steel walls and a small shelf Bruck thinks is supposed to pass for a bed. He doesn’t really remember what happened after- after Den—

He doesn’t really remember.

But this woman has been interrogating him since he was shoved into this room. Asking him why he hired Den. Who his uncle was. If the man really was his uncle. What company they worked for. What they were planning on doing with the information. What they knew. Where his uncle was. Where Den’s hideout was.

She’s very good at intimidation, but Bruck hasn’t said much more than, “I don’t know anything.” Mostly, he’s just kept his jaw clamped shut. He can’t trust himself. Not after—

Bruck just can’t. He’s messed things up enough as it is.

The guard puts something in the Khil’s outstretched hand. Bruck eyes the tiny device warily. It looks vaguely familiar.

“Hold out your arm,” the woman says.

Bruck frowns, stands straighter. Does not move from his corner.

“Hold out your arm or I will make you hold out your arm.” There is no sympathy in the woman’s voice. “Do not make this more difficult for yourself.”

Reluctantly, Bruck raises his left arm. Rusty splatters mar his pale skin. He stares for a moment, uncomprehending, then gags and looks away. Focuses on a spot above the woman’s shoulder. Ignores the bile filling his mouth, burning his throat. Very carefully breathes slowly through his nose. In, out. In, out.

Of course, Den’s blood is still on him. Of course.

If Master Jinn and Knight Aylward manage to find him, he wonders what they’ll think. Wonders if they’ll think he’s too far gone now for any apprenticeship.

Then again, he doesn’t think they’ll find him. They haven’t yet, have they? And now he’s in UniFy’s hands with no hope of escape.

He bites his lip, eyes hot and scratchy. No. It’s likely…he’s been abandoned. A washed up Initiate no Master wants as their Padawan. An Initiate who illegally snuck onto a transport to join a top-secret mission. It’d be no surprise if they abandon him. He’d really only made things harder for them, and he’d wandered off on his own.

There’s a little pinprick in the crook of his arm. He can’t help his flinch.

Some desperate, lonely part of him rages in the back of his mind. Snarls, I deserve to be a Padawan. I deserve this. I work harder than anyone, I’m better than anyone. If they’ll only give me a chance I can prove it! I can show them all how wrong they are!

But then he thinks of Den. Den who helped him despite everything. Den who did his best. Den who treated Bruck like the kid he is but also trusted him. Trusted that Bruck knew what he was doing. Trusted that Bruck would have Den’s back even though they’d only known each other for a few hours.

Bruck thinks of how Den smiled at Bruck so hesitantly. Made Bruck think that maybe, just maybe he’d found his first real friend, if only they’d have a bit more time to get to know each other. And Force how pathetic was that?

But then there’s that flash of movement across Bruck’s vision, the hot splash upon his face, the thump of Den’s body hitting the floor. The way the man’s head rolled, heavy and uneven along the ground. That single trusting eye staring up at him, gleaming in the nightlights of the city.

The Khil woman steps back, hand curled about the device. “I will be back in a few hours. I hope you are more…amenable by the time I return.” The threat is obvious in her voice. Bruck wonders what she’s threatening him with if she claims to not torture children.

Maybe she’ll have someone else torture him instead.

Bruck stays standing as the woman exits the room with the guard. The door slides shut with a finality that sends another tremble down Bruck’s spine. But maybe that’s the cold. His fingers and toes are a bit numb.

He blinks. Lowers his arm when he realizes it’s still raised. The crook of his arm tingles, as does his wrist. He rubs it absentmindedly, then flinches at the sudden memory of numbing cold seeping into his limbs and something clamped tight about his wrist, biting into his flesh, the bone.

He stumbles over to the bed, collapsing onto it. Cold seeps into the seat of his pants, the backs of his thighs. Ignoring the trembling of his limbs, he scoots back until he can curl into the corner, his back against the wall. Bruck draws his legs up onto the seat then under him, wrapping his arms tight about his torso. Dried blood flecks off onto his fingers.

The lights of the cell are so bright. Too bright. He closes his weary eyes and leans his head against the wall at his shoulder.

Yes, Bruck thinks, I probably do deserve this.

The steel beneath him is harsh and unforgiving. Already, his muscles ache. Den’s bloody head is seared into the backs of his lids.

I deserve this, Bruck thinks. I do.

Even falling asleep gives him no relief. His dreams are filled with desperation and despair. Darkness curls tight about his throat and pricks at the corners of his eyes. He tries to say- to say—

But shadows and tears spill into his gaping mouth, clogging his throat.

You! Someone screams in his ear. You!

He stumbles as the world flashes scarlet and suddenly he’s falling falling falling

-:-

Xanatos is just finishing the last of his research for Sidious’ project when his comm chimes. After the debacle earlier this evening, he thought it might be best to keep it on his person instead. He’d rather that than wait for Jemba to burst into his rooms unannounced with an Arcona trailing behind.

Olau stands at the window, gazing out into the darkness beyond. They’re tenser than Xanatos has ever seen them. Underlying disappointment and irritation has trembled about them for the past few hours, though a calm serenity smoothes over their Force signature. Xanatos can feel how Olau gently soothes the negativity that grips their heart and soul, though it is difficult.

It bothers him.

Never before has Olau been so obvious about their training. And just the way they calm their frustrations…It sets Xanatos’ teeth on edge. He hates it. Hates the way Olau seems to think they can’t embrace their emotions, their anger. Detests that it reminds him of the Jedi. The Jedi.

For the past few hours Xanatos has done his best to focus on the datapad in front of him and not on Olau. Not on their unusually short height. Not on how they used to be a slave. Not on how their brother turned against them and became Sidious’ pawn.

And especially not how Olau treats their emotions like a- like a Jedi.

He’s done his best not to linger on it because he doesn’t like the way the pieces are lining up in his head. But for now—

He sets the datapad down at his side, then picks up the comm to answer it.

“Xanatos du Crion speaking.”

“My Lord, it is Moulti.”

Xanatos frowns. “Do you have an update on the slicer?”

“Yes…That is what I am calling about.”

There’s a certain aggravation to her voice that prompts Xanatos to straighten and slide his legs off the couch. “I take it something happened?”

“Yes, my Lord. Denetrus managed to avoid the Enforcers. However, late last night I observed him entering UniFy Headquarters with a child. He thought he managed to override the security cameras, but in fact failed. I continued to observe him and his companion in the hopes that I would discover their reason for trespassing.”

“And?”

“The child apparently has an uncle who must know of some of our operations. The child said his uncle wished to ‘expose’ UniFy. Denetrus clearly worked for the child. He managed to upload some information onto his private servers, however I recovered the datachips he stole.”

“Can you get that information back?” Xanatos practically snarls, heart threatening to race.

“Yes, my Lord. The child knows the whereabouts of the slicer’s servers.”

“You could not ask the slicer himself?”

“…He is dead, my Lord.”

Xanatos bites back a harsh sigh. He must trust Moulti’s judgment. It’s been impeccable so far. However… “I presume you did the deed yourself?”

“Yes, my Lord. I thought it would be easier to get information out of a child. Denetrus hardly knew anything but how to slice into our databases. He’d gotten away with enough thieving in the past that I doubted we’d be able to get what information he did have out of him.”

“Next time,” Xanatos snaps, “consult me first before you kill anyone who has managed to steal data from us.” Some of the frustration from earlier today seeps into his voice. “Especially if you have not secured a way to take that information back. You have done satisfactory work up until now. I have been very pleased with you, in fact. Nevertheless, if you fail to do your job properly I will not hesitate to fire you. Do you understand?”

She doesn’t even hesitate. “Yes, my Lord. I understand entirely.”

Though Xanatos feels like punching someone in the face would do a world of good for his mood right now, he does appreciate Moulti’s candidness and ability to admit her own faults.

“I should tell you, my Lord, that the child has not been compliant. He’s frightened and shows signs of shock. Denetrus called him Tyrus, but that is all I know. I have my workers going through security cameras around the city and checking any records for a ‘Tyrus,’ but I doubt it is his real name. I’ve taken a blood sample in hopes of confirming his identity and locating his uncle.”

Xanatos doesn’t bother to hide his sigh this time. Frustration building again, he scrunches his eyes shut and pinches the bridge of his nose, then attempts to massage away the tension between his brows. It doesn’t help. Of course.

“Thank you, Moulti,” Xanatos mutters, voice tight. “I trust you have the situation in hand, despite certain setbacks. I’m going to retire for the night. However, contact me as soon as you learn anything. We cannot afford to be exposed by a bumbling child.”

“Of course, my Lord. I apologize for any undue stress this has caused you.”

Xanatos sighs again, air leaving him like a punch to the gut. Suddenly he desperately wants to sleep and just…be free of this for a few hours. Wants this all to be done and over with. But in all likelihood, if he does sleep all he’ll get are endless hours trapped in the nightmares of his past. And no rest whatsoever.

“It is no matter,” he ends up saying.

Vague surprise flitters on the corner of his senses, but he still does not open his eyes. Continues, “We’re just about done here on Bandomeer. We’ll be taking another short trip to survey a few potential mining sites for a new project. I will keep you informed. If, by the time we are done, the child has not given anything up, I will interrogate him myself.”

“Thank you, my Lord. I will keep in touch.”

The comm beeps off. Fingers clenching tight about the little device, Xanatos curls forward, spine brittle and aching. Then he fwumps back against the couch, tossing the comm to the other end of the cushions and letting his head fall back. Lets himself become boneless. His eyes slide open. It’s an effort, his lids are suddenly so heavy. The ceiling is dull and dusty. If he squints he can see a spider crawling along overhead. Tiny and black, a mere pinprick. It disappears into a stray crack.

“Xanatos…?”

He stares at that crack. There’s a smaller one scraggled along next to it. He wonders if the spider will appear again. If it will creep out of that same crack or flitter along beyond his sight and into the next one.

“My Lord?”

Blinking slow, Xanatos lets his head loll to the side. Olau faces him now, narrow shoulders tense, slim back to the dark window.

“Will we be leaving tomorrow?”

Xanatos stares at them for a long, silent moment. Then he straightens and blindly reaches out to grasp his datapad, not bothering to look at the bookmarked pages. “Yes, Olau. We will. We need to investigate the viable planets for Sidious’ project.” The way he spits the Sith’s name sounds weak even to his own ears. Pitiful. There’s a distant urge to sink his nails into his palm. To revel in the sharp pain it will bring. But he doesn’t even have the energy for that.

Olau tenses further, then visibly relaxes. Xanatos thinks of the slaves and their electro-collars. Of the bodies tossed into the churning sea and screaming in his ears. Lets his eyes trail over Olau’s terribly slim build and the way their head doesn’t even reach anywhere near the top of the window. Thinks of Olau’s lost brother. Of Sidious and his creeping, choking laugh. The oily feeling it leaves in the air.

Can’t let himself think anymore.

The headache that’s he’s ignored until now throbs in his temple, vicious. Unrelenting. Promising retribution.

“Time for bed, I think. It’s been a long day.” He glances out into the night. Bandomeer has no moon to break through the darkness. “A long day.”

He stands, fighting the weariness in his bones. Takes a step toward his meagre bedroom. Pauses. Doesn’t dare look at Olau. “You will think about my offer, won’t you.” His voice starts off cold and clipped but ends disgustingly weak. Almost pleading. The datapad is unnaturally heavy in his hand.

“You are…valuable, Olau. Not- not in the way Sidious would see you. You’re—” He swallows, feeling unbearably awkward, clumsy even. His tongue is heavy and slow in his mouth. “You’re different. I would not use you as a- a slave.” He frowns. He’s too tired to do this properly. But it needs to be said. Needs to be aired before the night is truly lost.

“You’re much more than that. So much. I can tell. It’s so easy to see it.” He can’t bear to look at his bodyguard in case he sees something in their posture he’d rather not. Shields clamped up tight, he refuses to seek out what Olau feels. He can’t let himself become even more vulnerable than he already is. Even so, it feels like he’s dangling on a ledge above a roiling sea, buffeted by winds and rain. Like he’s about to slip from the edge and his only hope is to let go and reach up up and desperately trust that someone will be there to catch him. To never let him go.

It’s an awful feeling.

One that he’s felt before.

One that he thought he’d never feel again.

(these past few years he’s worked tirelessly, desperately, to abandon that feeling in the wretched past)

(yet here he is)

(again)

“We can help each other, Olau. Together, we can make a difference.” His voice cracks. Xanatos wants to smother himself. Maybe that would put him out of his misery.

But Olau doesn’t say anything in return.

Xanatos does not try again.

He welcomes his musty mattress and even the fiery dreams it brings. The slaves’ screams still ring in his aching ears. But even in the midst of the chaos and pain of his own mind, something brushes gentle over his forehead, smoothing out the tangles in his hair.

“Listen,” something whispers, just barely there beneath the roaring of the flames. “Listen.”

-:-

“Qui-Gon,” Feemor hisses, “he’s not. Here.”

Qui-Gon pulls Feemor closer, glancing over the younger man’s shoulder at the woman seated in the communal area of their ship. It’s mid-morning by now. They’d snuck back to the space port just as dawn lit the sky, the port already bustling with activity. Andra yawns now, wide and cracking. She rubs at her face, eyeing the table. Then she slumps over it, pillowing her head upon her arms.

“I know,” Qui-Gon sighs, voice low. “It is worrying, I must admit. He should have been here by now.”

“We should go out there and find him!” Feemor reaches up to grip Qui-Gon’s sleeve, eye imploring and brows taut. “There is not much more we can do about Xanatos right now, anyway. Andra has given us some proof she’s managed to find, but most of it is speculation and obscure reports and news articles. We’d have to actually slice into servers to get more information. Maybe even break into UniFy’s or the Offworld Mining Corporation’s headquarters. But we’re not equipped to do that. You’re pretty rubbish with slicing, Qui-Gon, you know that. And I doubt I’m skilled enough to successfully get past the security in the database.”

Qui-Gon strokes his chin, beard coarse against his fingers, ignoring the impulse to rub at his temple instead. “You are right, my friend. We do not have the proper resources.”

“So we should go and find Bruck.” Feemor’s fingers clench his old Master’s sleeve. “Qui-Gon, I know you said that whatever happens is the will of the Force, but— I can’t in good conscience leave him. Not a child as desperate and lonely as him. He needs to get back to the Temple and have the Mind Healers look over him. He still has a few months yet for a Master to claim him. We cannot take that hope away from him.”

Qui-Gon bites back a scoff. He knows Feemor would disapprove. But that ghost-haired child cannot help but remind Qui-Gon of Xanatos. “You truly think he’ll find a Master? Especially after this debacle?”

Feemor stares at him silently for a long moment. Then the tight lines about his mouth and eyes soften just a bit. “I think there is still hope for him, as little as it may be. The spark has not yet gone out of his eyes, Qui-Gon. He’s still so determined, and talented if yesterday was any indication.”

Qui-Gon gives Feemor a pointed look.

Feemor rolls his eyes and huffs a helpless laugh. “Before he disappeared, I mean. Despite his foolish impulsiveness, I think he is a good child. A little overeager and naïve, but good. A Master would be good for him. They’d teach him how to not be ruled by his own chaotic emotions.”

Qui-Gon frowns, a sudden apprehensiveness clutching his heart. “You aren’t— Feemor. Tell you me you aren’t thinking…”

Feemor mirrors his frown, before his eyes go wide. He jerks back a step. “Oh!” Abruptly, he lets go of Qui-Gon’s sleeve. “That’s- I wasn’t— No. Qui-Gon, no. I don’t intend to take him as a Padawan.” The young man falls silent, face contemplative before he shakes his head. “No. I still do not think I am ready for a Padawan. Bruck would need someone far more talented than I to properly teach him.”

Though Qui-Gon wishes to correct his former Padawan quite vehemently, telling him that he is very talented and any Padawan would be lucky to have him— He doesn’t wish to encourage his dear friend to take on Bruck Chun. The child is too much like Xanatos. Too foolish and foolhardy. Too caught up in his own problems to really see or acknowledge anyone else’s. Qui-Gon doesn’t want Feemor to experience his own Padawan turning against him and Falling to places he will never be able to reach.

He would do anything to spare Feemor that.

“That is very wise of you,” Qui-Gon says instead. “I do not believe you and Bruck would make a good match. It is best to wait until another promising Initiate comes along.”

Feemor sighs, eyes sliding to gaze sightlessly to his left. “You are right, Master. And even if Bruck doesn’t find a Master, he will find a place for himself. I feel like the Exploration Corps would suite him well.”

Qui-Gon hums noncommittally.

Frowning, Feemor continues, “This doesn’t solve our problem, though. We need to find the youngling, and we can’t go about it through the usual channels. It would call too much attention to us.”

“I might be able to help with that.”

Feemor startles, and both Jedi look towards Andra. She’s sitting up at the table. Shadows smudge beneath her eyes, but her expression is alert.

“Sorry for eavesdropping, but…Even though I haven’t hired anyone yet…I have looked into slicers. There are a few people we could ask to help search for the kid. He might have gotten picked up by the Enforcers if they thought he was lost. Or we could at least look into security cameras. See if any of them caught anything.”

“That…” Qui-Gon glances at Feemor. “That is a very good idea.”

Andra smiles. “I’d just like to help. Maybe they can even help with getting some of the evidence we need against UniFy. Actually…” She trails off, blushing. “One of the slicers I asked about might work for UniFy right now. I only talked to him a little bit and he was unwilling at the time but…he could probably help us. He seemed pretty nice.” Andra’s blush deepens, but she valiantly ignores it.

Qui-Gon doesn’t bother to hide a smile. “Excellent. How do we get in touch with him?”

-:-

Bruck wakes with a start, clutching his arm and someone’s name on his lips. Before he can remember whose it is, there’s a sharp knock on the door and it whooshes open. The Khil woman walks in, expression severe.

“Come with me.”

Bruck scrambles up, stumbling, joints twinging and muscles sore. There’s a crick in his neck. He probably shouldn’t have gone to sleep sitting up, but it had felt too vulnerable to lie down.

The woman leads him out into the blank hall. He has no idea what time it is. No idea how long he slept. It feels like he hasn’t slept at all. His eyes ache with exhaustion and it’s an effort to keep one foot steady in front of the other. They make their way down the corridor to the turbolift where two blank-faced guards meet them. They all step into the lift and Bruck fights to keep his breath even when the doors shut behind them. The lift takes them up up until Bruck thinks he might throw up in this tiny little space, despite the bodies pressed in on him at all sides.

But before he does, the lift slows to a stop and the doors open. Bruck bites back his shame and takes a huge gulp of air as they step out into another corridor. This time it’s one with windows that allow sunlight to shine through. The sky is bright and clear. Bruck thinks it might even be noon, though he can’t yet see the sun.

“This way,” the woman says and marches him down the hall to another a pair of doors. She shoves him towards the one on the right, presses a button by the door and gestures for him to go in when it opens.

Bruck stares at her, gulping. Then steels himself and steps in.

The room is empty but for a table and two chairs. Something feels off about the left wall, but Bruck can’t place what.

The door slides shut behind him.

With nothing better to do, he decides to sit in the chair facing the door and wait.

It doesn’t take too long for the door to slide open again. But by that time the hem of Bruck’s shirt is frayed between his fidgeting fingers.

The man that steps in is unfamiliar to Bruck. He stands at an average height and doesn’t seem very remarkable besides the way he’s dressed in elegant finery, deep burgundy and gold colours. The man’s a little older, but not yet middle-aged. Stress lines crease his cheeks and eyes, forehead perpetually wrinkled.

The man’s hair is a stark, startling white.

The man halts, steps stuttering. His ice-blue eyes go wide and his mouth slackens. The door slides shut behind him with a finality that oddly shakes Bruck’s heart.

But suddenly.

Bruck has a horrible feeling that he knows exactly who he’s looking at.

“Bruck…?” The man’s voice cracks.

“Who- who are you…?” Bruck manages to croak out, despite knowing- knowing that yes, this is- this is his—

The man’s face crumples, and he takes a halting step forward. “Oh, Bruck…I’m your father.”

Chapter Text

“Oh,” Bruck croaks. “Uhm.”

The man, his- his father, looks pained. Torn, even. Like he doesn’t know quite what to do but wants to do something.

Bruck feels exactly the same way. He thinks. He’s actually not quite sure. He doesn’t even know what to say.

The ma- his father. He glances around the room, helpless. An upset frown mars his face as he takes in the impersonal walls, the almost-cruel lines, the harsh light above them. His father’s eyes land on the table. It’s bolted into the floor. He looks up at Bruck again, but does not move to sit or even step closer.

“You know, I didn’t believe it when they told me—” Choking off, his father swallows. “I have missed you so much, my son.” His father’s voice breaks, eyes shining wet for a brief moment. “You’ve grown so tall. So handsome. I can only imagine how striking you’ll look in a few years’ time.” Something shines again in his eyes. It’s— Bruck hasn’t ever seen that look aimed at him, but he thinks it might be…pride.

Eyes flittering over Bruck’s shaky, achy form, he lets out a wobbly laugh. “The last time I saw you…” The corners of his eyes crinkle in fondness and pain. “You were just a baby. So small. You had the most beautiful laugh…” He trails off, eyes roving over Bruck’s numb face. Hungry, almost. Longing.

It’s beyond unnerving.

“I never thought I’d see you again.” His father’s voice is stronger now. Steadier. “Your mother and I thought it was the right thing to do when the Jedi came. At the time it was an honour for your child to be chosen. Your choosing gave our family even more status and power. We were so happy for you, but…” His father actually does step closer this time. Hesitant. “Your mother still cried.”

Bruck, he- he still doesn’t know what to do. It’s- it’s honestly a bit hard to breathe. Like there’s a cloth stretched tight over his face, or maybe it’s like when he’s buried face-first in a pillow. There’s a ringing in his ears that threatens to whine loud over his father’s voice. Bruck doesn’t- he doesn’t really understand what’s going on right now.

This is his father. His father. And he’s talking about- about his mother, and—

“Your little brother looks up to you so much, you know.” A watery grin spreads soft across his father’s face. “He was so disappointed when he found out he wasn’t Force-sensitive. But it’s a good thing.” His face twists disconcertingly for a moment. “Kad is far too curious about Jedi for my liking. They’re the ones that took you away from us. They sparked the Telosian Civil War with their lies,” he spits. He turns an assessing eye on his son, equal parts concerned and suspicious.

“Why are you here, Bruck? Why now? You’re supposed to be with the Jedi.”

Bruck is stuck somewhere between his mother crying about him leaving and having a brother. He blinks rapidly, gaping as he tries to process what he’s hearing and what he should be saying.

His father frowns, voice demanding as he says, “Bruck? What’s going on?”

Tears burn Bruck’s eyes, and he ducks his head. Tries to gather himself. Tries to find that lost connection between his muddled mind and mute mouth. Unthinkingly, his arms come up to hug his chest, fingers clawing across his chilled skin, nails biting into the numbness. His mouth snaps shut and he bites his lip hard. Tries to focus. Bruck- he opens his mouth but no sound comes out. Furious, baffled tears overflow and scorch down his cheeks. Shame tastes bitter on his tongue.

A quiet shuffle as his father steps closer, voice more hesitant and soft as he says, “What happened? I can’t help you if you won’t tell me, Bruck.”

Bruck shakes his head, the movement stuttering at first, then frenetic. He hunches in on himself.

“Son. Please.”

Here is Bruck’s father. Bruck’s father who- who loves him. He thinks. Maybe. Who missed him, at least. Bruck’s mother cried when Bruck left and Bruck has a little brother who looks up to him. No one looks up to Bruck. No one admires him or- or thinks he’s good-looking. And certainly no one is proud of him like- like his father seemed to be just a minute ago.

Bruck wants—

He just wants—

“Bruck.”

Bruck breaks into loud sobs.

“Oh, Bruck.” Warm arms engulf him, strong and steady. Hands run through his hair and rub soothing circles down his back. His father offers a comfort that no one has presented to Bruck before. Certainly not his Crèchemaster who thinks it is better to meditate your tears away and let go of things long lost like a broken toy or- or even Kenobi after he disappeared.

“It’ll be all right, my son,” his father murmurs. “It will be all right. Just tell me what happened and we’ll fix it all, okay? We’ll fix it…”

Bruck clutches at his own arms and leans into his father’s chest. Quaking, he squeezes his eyes shut. Breaths rattle through his nose and mouth, aching in his lungs. It would be so easy to just…give in. Here’s his father who- who Bruck thinks would take him back. Bruck would have someplace to belong. No longer would he have to worry about finding a Master or flushing his anger and frustration into the Force like a proper Jedi. He wouldn’t even have to worry about being so utterly pathetic because he has no real friends. Because he has a brother who looks up to him and wants him like no one else ever has. He’d even have—

Force, he’d have a mother.

He’s worried for so long. Has squashed that traitorous whisper time after time, refusing to believe that no. No, he doesn’t belong in the Order. He doesn’t belong anywhere. No one will ever want him because he’s a failure.

Lately, it’s been so difficult to ignore those thoughts. To watch as his peers pass in the halls, all laughter and bright smiles as their Padawan braids swing cheerily against their throats. It’s been so difficult not to resent them, to resent everyone. Because at the end of each day he’s the only one left huddled in his empty dorm with no Master to be seen. With no Master who wants him.

When he followed Master Jinn onto that ship, he was determined to do right. To prove himself. Because it was probably his last chance.

And- and this might actually be his last chance. Somehow, he’s found his family. Maybe it’s by the will of the Force that this all happened. Maybe all this hurt and frustration and loneliness has been for this. Maybe he was meant to find his family all this time. Maybe this is the one place he truly belongs.

Bruck shudders out a breath, takes in a slower one, opens his mouth—

Stops.

Maybe it was the will of the Force that a Master never chose him. That he followed Jinn onto that ship and became part of the mission. That tug he’d followed down the alley had certainly been the Force’s call. Meeting Den surely could not have been a coincidence.

…But is he willing to believe that Den died just so Bruck can be with his family again?

Den’s smile and lolling head flash scarlet beneath his eyelids. Bruck shudders and bites his lip until he can taste copper on his tongue.

No. No, he’s not.

And- and if he was always meant to be with his family, then why was he taken by the Jedi in the first place? Why put him through everything he’s had to endure just for him to end up back home?

It’s doesn’t make sense.

“Bruck?” his father murmurs. “You must tell me. Why are you here?”

Abruptly, Bruck remembers what Den told him. That Vox Chun is the Treasurer of Telos. That Vox Chun is close friends with Xanatos du Crion and helped create Katharsis. The game that bets on people’s lives and swindles Telosians of their money to fund UniFy’s questionable projects.

Didn’t- didn’t Andra say that Xanatos convinced the Treasurer to steal money for his corporation?

He’s willing to bet anything that his father is that same Vox Chun. What other Chun would have the wealth and power his father boasted?

And- and it would make sense if he was here. In league with UniFy and trying to figure out what Bruck and Den stole.

Bruck lets out another broken sob and his father immediately hushes him, murmuring things Bruck doesn’t bother listening to.

If he tells his father anything, he’ll give away Master Jinn and Knight Aylward. They might even be killed. It wouldn’t surprise him considering Den and the fact that Telos seems to hate all Jedi now. Xanatos might even do it personally if Master Jinn used to be his Master. Bruck doesn’t even want to imagine what hostility and pain festers there, since Xanatos left the Order and so many of his people died.

If he tells his father the truth, he will be dooming the Jedi in exchange for his family. A place where he can finally belong.

Some awful part of him finds it tempting. A part that would find a nasty satisfaction in making the Jedi pay for his suffering.

But—

He can’t.

He can’t do it.

If he’s right, then his father is helping orchestrate something horrible. Something Bruck wants no part in.

He’s had so much time to think after Kenobi left. Awful nights spent wondering if Kenobi was truly right to leave. Long, seemingly never-ending nights wherein he curled beneath his blankets and wondered if this is what life was. If this is what he was meant to be. Wondering if he was only what others believed he was worth.

It would be so easy to just tell his father everything and finally get the approval he’s been so desperately longing for.

But Bruck is tired of doing what people want. Tired of doing everything he possibly can just for someone to stop. Look at him. Say:

You did your best, and I am so proud of you.

“Th-they threw me out,” Bruck sobs, digging his forehead into his father’s chest. “I di-didn’t know what else to do…” The trembling emotion in his voice isn’t false at all. It’s what makes this easier, and at the same time, all that much harder.

His father tenses, then relaxes against him, pulling him so close Bruck finds it even more difficult to breathe. The man’s hands are like grasping claws, threatening to tear at what little composure Bruck can keep.

“Oh, my son.”

Bruck fights back hysterical laughter, which only makes him quake more and causes his father to hold him tighter.

This is it. A few days ago, Bruck would have said he was giving in. Resigning himself to failure and a lifetime full of heartache for what might have been. But now, now

Bruck knows this is what he needs to do. Even though he’s just given up his last chance of happiness and belonging, this is what feels right. Even though the choice only makes him sob harder as his heart breaks.

This is what he needs to do. For the sake of Telos. For Master Jinn and Knight Aylward. For Den.

Even for himself.

Because this way, Bruck will eventually be okay. This way, he can accept his own decision and fate. Bruck thinks it’s about time he starts basing his own worth on what he thinks is right, instead of worrying about what everyone else believes.

Maybe it’s selfish of him. Maybe it’s selfish to turn his back on his only remaining family. But he knows if he confesses everything, he will never be okay with what he’s done. He can’t help his father continue to ruin Telos. He can’t betray the Jedi, even if they won’t accept him. And he thinks…yes, maybe he was never meant to be a Jedi. Perhaps he’s meant to find his own path, and find a place where he can be…not necessarily be happy with himself, but content. Content with who he is. Content with his decisions.

Bruck just wants to accept himself and be okay with who he truly is.

Especially after- after Den.

And this…this is the way to do it.

“I-I wandered around Corusca-scant. U-until someone was willing to- to take me in.” It’s so easy to lie like this, face buried in his father’s clothes and his own father’s arms hiding his expression from the world. There’s an odd truth to his words even he hears. It’s a ringing echo that shortens his own breath.

“I-I don’t really know who they are,” he sobs, curling himself closer. “J-just pirates. Th-thieves. I did what they wanted because- because they were the only ones who wanted me.”

His father’s hand runs through his hair, fingers tangling and knotting in the fine strands. Bruck bites back a wince. “Oh, son. Tell me everything. We can help you. It’ll be okay now. Everything will be okay. Just tell us what happened.”

Bruck nods shaky against his father’s chest, us us us echoing through his still partly muddled mind.

‘Us.’

Bruck feels a little bit better about what he’s done now. Because his father can only mean that Khil woman and UniFy. Perhaps even Xanatos himself.

Oh.

The left wall of the room seemed off when he first came in. He bets she’s in the next room watching. Assessing. Figuring out if what he says is the truth or just lies.

Well, he thinks viciously as he lets out another wretched sob, reaching out to clutch at his father’s coat, I can certainly give them a show.

His father attempts to pet his head again, whispering assurances and awkward phrases of love.

Bruck will do his best to get UniFy off the Jedi’s scent. Then, somehow, he’s going to get that information from Den’s hideout to Master Jinn, whether the man has left him to rot on Telos or not.

And after that…well. Bruck’s not sure.

But he’s not going to stay on Telos.

-:-

Xanatos wakes with the awareness that he’s caught somewhere in between. Flames blaze on the insides of his eyelids, but there’s cool cotton beneath his fingertips. He tries to open his eyes, but can’t. Tries to twitch his fingers or shift his legs—

He struggles to suck in a deep breath but all it does is stutter the breath in his lungs. Clog up his throat. His father is screaming in the flames, flesh crackling and scorching. There’s a weight on his breast as his father leans over him, mouth moving like he’s speaking but all Xanatos can hear is screaming and his own breath and heartbeat pounding in his ears.

His father reaches out to touch his cheek, leaving searing pain in the wake of a gentle stroke of his fingers. His father’s ring slips from his hand and lands heavily just beneath Xanatos’ eye, the white-hot metal soldering to his flesh with such mercilessness that it leaves Xanatos breathless. His father’s arm rents at the shoulder, like the sinew couldn’t possibly keep this monstrous creature together even by sheer force of will alone. It tears loose and tumbles to the side, leaving scorching trails of heat and ash along Xanatos’ ribs but Xanatos can’t even scream and the flesh starts to drip from his father’s skull, plopping wetly on Xanatos’ exposed skin leaving the skull to shimmer ghostly-white beneath crackling skin and smoking hair—

He tries to move his lips, call for help—

It does nothing but make the breath rush faster and faster until he thinks—

He thinks—

“My son!” his father screeches, voice barely comprehensible, garbled and ghastly. “My son!” He leans in closer, breath stinking between his now rotting teeth.

Don’t, Xanatos tries to say. Don’t- don’t, please—

A cool hand brushes over his forehead, such a contrast to the burning of his father’s flesh.

“Xanatos,” a calm voice rasps in his ear. “Xanatos, can you hear me?”

He gasps in small shuddering breaths and feels like he’s about to choke.

A warm flood of reassurance and peace washes over his skin, soothing the prickling numbness caught between his ribs. The hand stays steady on his forehead as another rests on his own frozen fingers. Calloused skin rasps against his own, fingertips stroking along the back of his hand.

“You’re safe, Xanatos. Far from wherever your dreams have trapped you. You’re safe in your bed on Bandomeer.”

Xanatos tries to turn his head away from his father’s accusing, desperate face, but can’t. He stares up up into those wide, wild eyes. Tears and blood trickle, steaming, onto his face.

“Can you move your fingers for me, Xanatos? Can you feel my hand?” The fingers slip beneath his palm and tuck themselves between his hand and the sheets. “Try to squeeze my hand okay? And wiggle you toes.”

The voice is so calm Xanatos latches onto it. Latches onto that tiny hand beneath his, the cool spot on his brow. His father snarls something Xanatos struggles to ignore because, because—

“You’re safe on Bandomeer, Xanatos. You’re safe. Just focus on your breathing, okay? Can you breathe in time with my counting? In, one two three four five. Hold. Out, one two three four five. In, one two three four five…”

It takes a few tries and some panicked gasping, but eventually Xanatos stutters his breaths along with Olau’s voice. Because now he realizes it is Olau. It’s Olau who’s once again trying to break him free from his nightmares. It’s easier to look his father’s gruesome visage in the eye with Olau’s calm voice in his ear. Their warmth invades the chilly shadows tangled between his ribs and about his heart.

It takes a while, but soon Xanatos is able to open his eyes and clutch Olau’s hand tight in his own. When Olau’s hand grips him back reassuringly, Xanatos is startled to realize that Olau’s hand is bare. There’s bare skin beneath his palm where he’s only ever seen smooth, black leather. Olau never goes without their gloves. Never reveals any bit of bare skin at all. And now—

Xanatos stares at the blank ceiling for a few seconds more. Then slowly, oh so slowly, he turns his head to face Olau.

Their helmet gleams in the dull light of the mid-morning sun, obscuring their face as it always does. In fact, Olau’s wearing their usual concealing clothes, though hastily donned and minus their belts and cloak. Disappointment crawling up his throat, Xanatos squints down at their joined hands. Shakily, he runs his fingers down the rough palm beneath his. Shifts his arm so he can see the pale skin against his sheets.

“Xanatos?”

Olau’s hands. They’re— Even though they’re calloused and crisscrossed with tiny white scars, they’re surprisingly- young looking.

“Xanatos.”

Xanatos looks up at Olau with a start, eyes wide.

Olau leans closer, voice soft. “Are you all right?”

Xanatos stares. His own reflection gapes back, cheeks sunken and eyes hollow. Wide and wild. Like his father’s.

He flinches, and doesn’t protest when Olau’s hand slips from his own and they help him to sit up. Shame knots his gut, heavy and dreadful. He averts his gaze and tries not to think of his father. Tries not to think of- of Olau’s—

Because it can’t be.

Olau can’t be—

“Xanatos?” One of Olau’s small hands grips his shoulder. “Are you all right?”

Xanatos stares down at the sheets pooled in his lap. Listens to the whine of his lightsaber’s crystal beneath his pillow. Long dark strands stick to his brow and tangle at the nape of his neck, sticky and slick with sweat. They threaten to slip and curl about his throat like a noose. Sightlessly, Xanatos reaches out for Olau’s other hand, fingers grasping futilely at calloused skin. The back of their hand is so soft despite the scars.

Diffidently, Xanatos turns his head slightly to look at their entwined hands. “Why—” he croaks, then has to clear his throat. Try again. “Why are you doing this?”

Olau shifts, hand flexing in his. “Why am I doing what?”

“Anything, I don’t know,” Xanatos huffs helplessly. “Why are you here? Comforting me?” he spits, self-loathing wretched on his tongue. “Why do you bother? Surely you have better things to do. Like- like finding your brother. Or killing Sidious or living somewhere peaceful where no one can disturb you? I’ve had the same horrific nightmares for years. It’s not like they’re going to get any better. It’s not like I’m ever going to have another night of simple, decent sleep.” His voice cracks.

Xanatos’ free hand twists in the sheets on his lap. But the other…he just grips Olau’s fingers, firm. So easily can he imagine their bones fracturing in his hold. Fine, tiny things shattering like birds’ wings. He can’t do that to Olau. Not Olau who is so kind to everyone, even to him.

“Why bother?” Xanatos croaks, eyes hot and itchy but bone-dry. “This is…I’m not paying you enough for this. People don’t just…people don’t just do things like soothe others’ nightmares for the fun of it. It’s- it’s not part of your job. And,” he laughs, voice wrecked, “I’m pretty sure that this isn’t how a bodyguard acts. At all.”

He grits his teeth and squeezes his eyes shut. “What do you even get out of this? What— It can’t just be the money. I don’t pay you enough for- for what you do. So- so why do you stay? Despite everything? Despite—” me?

Olau is silent for one long horrible minute. Xanatos can tell they’re trying to decide what to say. At the moment, it’s difficult to sense anything other than his own chaotic emotions, but he can just barely feel the careful deliberation, the hesitance, that trembles along their edges.

A raspy sigh breaks the silence. Olau shifts to sit on the edge of the bed facing him. Their hand leaves his shoulder but the other stays right where it is. Held carefully in Xanatos’ own like a precious thing.

“I told you before that…” Olau starts. Then they shake their head, twist their hand in Xanatos’ grip, and squeezes his hand back, comforting. Their palm is warm and rough against his. Soothing. Almost like a distant, faded memory kept silent in the back of his thoughts.

“I admit I did not like you at first. I’d heard of your reputation and cruelty, and I suspected much of what you’re doing. Your business ventures aren’t anything I approve of. Not at all.”

“Then why—

Olau squeezes his hand again, but this time in a silencing gesture. A warning that they still have much to say.

Xanatos falls silent. Looks at their hands, but can’t bear to raise his gaze any higher.

“There are personal reasons why I took this job. Many of which I am not ready to speak of at all, much less tell you yet. But I might.” There’s an odd, sad smile in their voice. “Someday I might.”

Xanatos nods reluctantly, mute. He understands not being able to speak of certain things. Of things that make you want to ruin everything you touch and most of all yourself.

“If it was only the money I was here for, I wouldn’t stay. I’m not like Moulti whose loyalty is won by the first good bid and her desire to finish each job as efficiently and perfectly as possible. It’s only her own pride she really cares about. I, however…”

Xanatos waits with baited breath.

“I stay because despite everything, I actually do like you, Xanatos.”

Xanatos uses all his willpower not to sob like a pathetic child.

“You’re…you’re confused. And hurting and lonely. I know you don’t like me saying so, but it’s true. I don’t think you know what you’re doing except trying to make everything feel all right again. You’re lashing out and manipulating people in an attempt to accomplish some wild, terrible schemes that frankly don’t make sense. You’re- you’re so stubborn and proud, and vain at the best of times. Honestly, I admire Moulti for putting up with your ridiculously high expectations, and I certainly don’t understand how anyone can stand your astonishing cruelty.”

Scarlet flashes across Xanatos’ eyes. The scent of acrid smoke lingers in his nose.

“But.”

Xanatos’ free hand twists senselessly in the sheets, cutting off circulation to his fingers.

“I do like you. You aren’t lost yet, Xanatos. Not completely. You have so much potential. It’s- it’s staggering. You are in a position to do so much good. And in a way, you already have what with all your charities and projects all across Telos. I find it so odd. I hardly think that in order to gain access and control of Telos’ natural resources, you had to become this well-known benefactor. I don’t think you needed to put on a ‘farce’ of helping so many just to swindle them of their money in Katharsis.”

Xanatos gulps, eyes fixed on Olau’s pale, pale skin. If he squints enough, he can just barely discern the faint constellations of soft freckles.

“Plus you’re…oddly forgiving. You didn’t have to let that girl go all those months ago, especially since she tried to kill you. You even tried to give her money. The cruel Lord that the slaves on those deepsea mines know? He wouldn’t forgive his servants for letting Hutts barge in unannounced. You’ve done so many little things like that over the past few months I’ve known you. It’s like…you’re trying so hard to act one way, but your true nature slips out to do some good. I mean, stars, what evil person builds non-profit hospitals in the poorest sectors of a planet? Sidious certainly wouldn’t do anything like that? So why are you?

Xanatos can tell the question is more rhetorical than anything else, and he doesn’t have the heart to object at the moment, anyway.

“You gain nothing from acts like that. Yes, you could claim it’s for the sake of your image. So you can further lure them into a sense of false-security— But I still believe you could have done so much worse without doing so much good.” Olau pauses, then releases a tight, bitter laugh. “Well, you actually have done some pretty unforgivable things. Like enslave helpless people for profit, assassinate competitors and poison the most beautiful places on your own damn planet.”

Olau leans closer, urgency quivering about them. They squeeze Xanatos’ hand tight. “Xanatos, the reason I stay, the reason why I will always wake you from your nightmares— It’s because I don’t want to give up on you. You need someone to show you that pain isn’t everything, and that there is some good in this galaxy if you only search for it.”

Not-quite trembling, Xanatos’ gaze drags up from their entwined hands. Up Olau’s thin but muscled arm. Up, up to settle on that gleaming mask that Olau hides behind. The mask that reflects Xanatos’ own terrified visage back at him.

“I do like you, Xanatos,” Olau affirms. “I do. And I think once you realize that there is still good left in you, too…You’ll be able to find some measure of peace, and become such an incredible person.”

Xanatos croaks a laugh. Weakly, he tugs at his hand, but doesn’t quite slip free from Olau’s grip. “You are so…foolishly optimistic. It is not so simple as that.”

Olau’s thumb runs soft along his skin. “It is not foolish. Just…hopeful. I am trying to understand, and to help. And maybe…” Something tremblesquiversshudders about them. Something so significant and yet too unfathomable for Xanatos to understand. “Maybe things will turn out differently. This time.”

Xanatos considers the impassive mask with its tidal wave of emotion hidden beneath. “Like your brother, you mean.”

Olau pauses, then tilts their head in acquiescence. “Yes. Among other things.”

Xanatos frowns, still shaky, still reeling from his dream and Olau’s own emotions. “You…still love him. Despite everything that he’s done.”

“Yes, and I always will.”

For one strange, painful moment Xanatos thinks of Qui-Gon. Of the way his Master smiled at him with such fondness and playfully tugged his Padawan braid. Thinks of the way the man pleaded with Xanatos, pleaded for Xanatos to just explain, he just wanted to help, Xani, please—

“You forgive him.” It’s not a question, but it’s meant to be.

Olau nods slow. “In some ways I do. In some ways it’s too painful to think about. I forgive his anger, his hatred. I was not there for him when he needed me most and that…that is my own fault. But…there are some things I have no right to forgive. There are wrongs he has committed that hurt others far worse, and I cannot simply forget that. I still struggle with it. But…what matters to me most, is that he can forgive himself. That he can live with himself and work to make up for the things he has done. And…”

Olau audibly swallows, voice thick as they continue. “Next time, I will be there for him. I will not leave his side for anything in the galaxy. Not unless he no longer needs me. Perhaps not even then.”

Bitter jealousy rises like bile in Xanatos’ throat. He’s jealous of Olau’s brother, both for holding Olau’s unfaltering loyalty (greater than Olau’s loyalty to Xanatos) and that the man has someone who loves him so wholly.

But…Xanatos will try not to begrudge this. Clearly, their brother means the galaxy to Olau, and Xanatos does not want ruin something that feels so innocent, despite everything that surrounds the siblings’ circumstances. He can only imagine what their relationship must have been like before the betrayal, before Sidious.

It only makes Xanatos want to destroy the Sith Lord even more.

“Your brother…is he still alive, then?”

Olau jerks slightly, startled. Then they glance to the side, a peculiar tingle of hope and dread runs along the skin of their palms. “I hope so.”

Xanatos squeezes Olau’s hand, feeling oddly vulnerable. “We can still destroy Sidious, Olau. Together. And maybe…maybe we can find your brother, too.”

Uncertainty flickers in the air.

“Maybe,” Olau whispers.

Xanatos will take whatever he can get.

Chapter Text

“I have told you, Treasurer Chun. We cannot let the boy go free.”

“And I have told you, that I am taking my son home. He’s told you everything he knows. Now, if you’ll excuse me—” Bruck’s father tries to push past the Khil woman, but she stands her ground blocking the doorway out of the interrogation room.

Bruck hunches nervously behind his father. They’ve been in this same room for some time now. Bruck isn’t sure how long. The lack of windows is really messing with his head. The harsh lighting just makes him squint now, temple throbbing.

He’d talked for so long about what had happened to him. Well, what he said happened to him. Not being good enough for the Jedi (true), getting kicked out (luckily most people don’t seem to know what happens to failed Initiates?), and wandering the streets for who knows how long. Bruck’s more than nervous about that last part, since the last couple days on Telos is really all he knows about life outside the Temple. But luckily stuttering his explanation through more-than-real-tears was easy. It seems like adults are more forgiving of children when they’re in distress.

Bruck doubts that if he hadn’t been crying he would have been able to pull it off. Hiccupping through his words and being able to take mini breaks full of outright sobbing is a great way to figure out what you’re trying to say. Anything that doesn’t seem quite right can be dismissed because of stress.

At least, Bruck hopes so.

Bruck really hopes so.

Now though…Now he’s just more exhausted than ever. Eyes swollen and itchy, throat scratchy and mouth bone-dry. His body is so achy he can feel his joints creak and his muscles protest with every movement. At some point his father got tired of standing and holding Bruck, so they’d sat down at each end of the table, Bruck huddled in on himself as his father nodded sympathetically all the while.

After Bruck finished his stuttered and shaky explanation, his father had reached out as if to cover Bruck’s hand. But Bruck’s arms were wrapped firmly about himself, so his father’s hand wavered then pulled back.

“We can help you,” he’d said. “Would you mind if I called someone else in?”

Mutely, Bruck had shaken his head.

Of course it was the Khil woman. Bruck could hardly contain his flinch when she stepped in. His father simply sat back as she questioned every little detail about what he knew.

No, Bruck wasn’t sure where Den’s hideout was. He was pretty tired at the time and it was dark. He thinks it might be on the outskirts of the city. It was definitely an apartment.

No, he doesn’t know what the pirates want with UniFy’s data. They didn’t really tell Bruck much of anything. Maybe they’ll sell it off to the highest bidder.

No, only a couple of the pirates were humanoid, the others— What spaceport did they dock in? He doesn’t remember. Well, no, he’s new, of course the pirates don’t trust him—

Honestly Bruck’s having a really hard time keeping everything straight in his head. He thinks he remembers someone telling him once that if you’re going to lie, to keep it nice and simple. But what choice did he have when that woman stared him down with her blackhole eyes and it was all Bruck could do not to cower? Those tentacles quivering along her jaw cast an eerie whistle to her every word.

All he can think about when he hears her voice is the dark and a hot splash on his cheek, then Den’s small smile before—

“I am taking him home,” his father snaps.

“Not without Lord Xanatos’ permission, you aren’t.” The woman’s voice is so cold. Much more terrifying than blazing hot anger.

“Then comm him for Gods’ sake!” Clearly the man is used to people simply obeying his orders instead of questioning them.

Eyes narrowing, the woman scowls at his father before her gaze darts beyond him to study Bruck. Bruck stares back, eyes wide and frozen. The woman’s tentacles flutter. Then she looks back at Bruck’s father.

“Stay here. I will be back with a comm.”

With that, she leaves the room. The door shuts behind her with an ominous click.

Huffing, his father shakes his head then turns to Bruck with an annoyed frown. “We’ll get this sorted out. Don’t you worry.”

Bruck nods, mute.

That’s exactly what he’s afraid of.

-:-

Xanatos is just finishing up signing some last-minute documents when his comm goes off. He’s still sitting in the dining room, breakfast long past. For once, Olau sits next to him, scrolling through a spare datapad to review the plans for their next trip. Xanatos doesn’t dare look, but he’s pretty sure Olau’s toes don’t even touch the floor.

The comm beeps again. Xanatos puts down his own datapad, sighing. Then answers it.

“Xanatos du Crion.”

“My Lord, there has been significant progress since we last spoke.”

Straightening at the sound of Moulti’s voice, an odd sense of relief floods through Xanatos. “Oh?”

“Yes. It turns out the child is Treasurer Chun’s son. He used to be a Jedi Initiate before he was thrown out. He has since decided to keep company with pirates.”

Xanatos freezes, as does Olau, but he hardly notices. Suddenly it’s very difficult to breathe.

“The- the child was a Jedi Initiate?” He can’t help the stutter.

“Yes, my Lord. He admits that no Master would take him on, so he was forced to leave.”

Something like grief or bitter fury twists in his breast. How dare the Jedi throw a child out onto the streets? Then he frowns. Usually the failed Initiates go into the Corps, but…He supposes the child could have left of his own accord, preferring the streets to the forced and demeaning labour of the Corps. Allowed to use the Force, but only peripherally and under the thumb of the Jedi Order. That brief spark of suspicion quells as he thinks, wait—

“Treasurer Chun is his father, you said?”

“Yes, Lord Xanatos!” Suddenly it’s not Moulti’s voice, but the Treasurer himself. “Bruck is the son I’ve told you about. He was taken by the Jedi before he was even a year old. My Lord, he was desperate, as any child would be on the streets. His only choice was to accept the first offer given, even if it meant working for pirates,” he spits, fury palatable. Xanatos and the Treasurer have spoken many a time in the past, expounding upon the disgraces of the Jedi. They’ve bonded somewhat over the loss of family. Even though the Treasurer isn’t one of Xanatos’ favourite people, at least the man understands somewhat.

Please, my Lord. He didn’t even know he had any family left. He was practically hysterical when he told me everything that happened to him. He’s had a harrowing experience. What he needs now is to come home to his family. To rest, eat. But your Head of Security is unwilling. Bruck doesn’t know much of what the pirates were planning or where the stolen data was sent. I highly suspect that she thinks my son is lying.”

“There is a possibility, my Lord.” Moulti’s voice is absolutely unforgiving. Tight and clipped. “It is one I cannot ignore.”

Lord Xanatos. I beg you. Let my son come home. He’s had enough hardship in his life, he doesn’t need any more. With some rest perhaps he will be able to think more clearly and help us.”

Xanatos’ ears ring. His own father’s face swims before his eyes, whole and healthy. But despair and frustration tighten the man’s mouth which gapes open, says, “I’m still your father, Xanatos. I don’t know why you think I gave that up. That I tried…or that I could. I believed in you enough to send you to Coruscant. You’ll never understand the sacrifice…Knowing you’re out there—You’re a light in the darkness of everything we’ve faced.”

And Xanatos— Xanatos was young. It was the first time he’d seen his father in years, his father whom he’d thought abandoned him and suddenly he was saying, was saying—

“Xanatos,” his father had said, voice so knowing. “You know why you’re here. It was the Jedi’s wisdom that sent you back to me.”

Xanatos exhales a shaky breath, shakes his head slightly to clear—

“I need you to—”

No- this isn’t—

“Please help my son, my Lord,” the Treasurer pleads, voice brittle.

Sometimes it’s so easy to forget that Xanatos used to hate his own father. That before Telos, before he met his sister, before she died— before all of that. He hated his father. Hated that the Council sent him back to Telos, like they couldn’t trust his loyalty to the Order, to Qui-Gon. Fear rattled his every breath. He thought somehow he might fail this test and Qui-Gon would give him up for the orphaned Padawan joining them on their mission. Force, had he feared it. Because out of everything, the thing he held most dear, the thing he struggled to understand because the Order taught him to shame it—

Once long ago, Xanatos had loved Qui-Gon more than anything.

“I owe you the honour of calling you father,” Xanatos spit at his father that first time they spoke. Oh so young and not yet swayed by his father’s words or his sister’s death. Padawan braid still soft against his throat. “But excuse me. Father. My duty is to my Master, and I sense he waits for me.”

“My Lord?” Moulti’s voice breaks in. “What do you want done with the child?”

Barely able to suppress a flinch, Xanatos blinks out of unwelcome memories. His mind is still foggy though, his father’s voice like shadowed fingers dragging along the inside of his skull, prickling, nagging. Demanding attention.

‘The child,’ she’d said. So cold, callous. No. No, Xanatos doesn’t want to treat this child so cruelly. Not when he understands what it’s like to be torn from your family, abandoned, then thrust back into a life that doesn’t fit you anymore. A life that you’ve lost. He understands what it means to never truly belong.

He won’t be cruel. Not to this child.

This is a chance for father and son to make amends and heal what has been broken.

Perhaps they’ll succeed where Xanatos and his own father did not quite manage.

“The boy is free to go back to his family,” Xanatos finds himself saying. “But to assuage your suspicions, Moulti, you can fit a tracker on him.”

 “You won’t regret this, Lord Xanatos,” Treasurer Chun gushes.

“No, I will not,” Xanatos agrees, voice leaving no room for argument. He better not regret this. The Treasurer will answer for any mistakes. The man knows it, too. They’ve had this discussion too many times to count.

Treasurer Chun knows what will happen if he doesn’t do his job properly. This is just the same.

“Are you sure about this, my Lord?” It is unlike Moulti to ever question his orders. It must really rankle her that things have not gone smoothly the last couple days.

“I am quite sure. You will be able to track his progress if anything is amiss. Those trackers cannot be forcefully taken off without significant harm done, so if the boy is telling the truth he should have nothing to worry about.”

Xanatos pauses. Glances towards Olau who feels oddly closed off. Confusion and an old ache roil beneath the surface. Hesitantly, Xanatos reaches out through the Force—

And is hit with the odd sensation of an image he can’t quite make out. Old and weather-worn, soft along the edges and threatening to split at the seams. But the hurt is knife-sharp, striking through the imagememoryvision with haphazard strokes. Each wound crumbles ash at the edges like a lightsaber laid waste to something innocent.

Xanatos can just barely decipher two children, both desperate, rage-filled. Hopelessness saturates the entire thing, blurring the image beyond legibility until it seeps into him, stutters his breath—

He breaks away with a gasp. The comm presses painful indents into his fingers and palm. Olau shudders brief beside him. A flash of another image, a new one perhaps entirely his own, aches in his temple. Xanatos with two small figures. Each with their own hurt but united in understanding. United in- in the sense of family. Belonging.

Oh, Xanatos thinks, overwhelmed. Oh. Perhaps- perhaps yes. This is meant to happen. Xanatos found an odd companion in Olau. Reluctant maybe, but a companion still. But now this child, Chun’s son- Maybe he was meant to find his way to them. Maybe they were all meant to find each other. To help and to soothe and strengthen.

Two apprentices sound far better than just one, Xanatos thinks.

A shaky, but slowly strengthening smile curls across his cheeks. The child will find someone familiar in Xanatos: a Force-wielder with experience. But this time, the child will have someone who appreciates him. Someone who understands and will trust and listen. And maybe he will help cement the relationship between Xanatos and Olau.

“When I return to Telos I will speak with your son, Treasurer Chun. Perhaps I will be able to help him heal after everything he’s gone through. After all, we have had similar experiences.”

“Thank you, Lord Xanatos. I appreciate what you are doing for my son.”

“It is no trouble.” Xanatos smirks, unseen to all but Olau. “Now, Moulti, any other news?”

The sound of a muffled shuffle over the comm, a second of silence, then:

“Yes, my Lord. We have narrowed down which spaceports the pirates might be docked at. We have several matches of the name ‘Tyrus’ in the last couple weeks. We’ll begin conducting searches of all pertinent spacecraft later today. It is helpful that Telos IV is so strict concerning offworld travel.”

“Excellent, excellent.” Though reprehensible, Telos IV has a long history of xenophobia. Well, xenophobia towards all offworlders. As long as you are Telosian, it does not matter if you are human or otherwise. This mindset is what sparked conflict when Xanatos first returned to Telos, and what helped him gain power afterwards.

“I expect to be kept up to date with the investigation. Though…”

A knock at the door sounds. Xanatos frowns, glances at Olau who sits ramrod straight beside him, focus clearly intent on the comm and the datapad forgotten in their hands. The knock comes again and this time Olau stands, chair scraping against the floor. They pad over to the door, then open it a crack to speak quietly to whoever is on the other side.

Xanatos eyes them for a moment more before turning back to the comm. “We might be a little difficult to reach. Ossus is our next destination.”

“Ah, I see.”

“Is there anything else?”

“No, my Lord.”

“Then I shall hear from you soon.” The comm clicks off.

“Lord Xanatos.” Olau still stands with the door slightly ajar. “Jemba is here.”

Not bothering to hide his scowl, Xanatos deftly powers down Olau’s datapad then leans back in his chair. “What does he want?” Irritation sharpens his words.

“It’s about the riot yesterday.”

“Hmm.” Tracing a finger along his own datapad, he glances over the open document. “Let him in.” As the door opens fully to allow the heaping mass of Hutt into the room, Xanatos flicks to his last document. Glances over it, signs.

“Finally, you’ve arrived,” he states mildly, gaze still on his pad.

“What do you—”

“Where were you yesterday?” Xanatos shifts to lean against the arm of his chair and rests his weighty, sharp gaze on Jemba.

The Hutt scowls, confused. “I’m don’t know—”

“The riot, Jemba. Where were you during the riot?

“Well, my Lord, I heard you were there so—”

“So you thought I’d do all the work.”

The Hutt startles, clearly realizing this conversation is not going where he wants it to. “I thought you had it handled, my Lord.”

Tutting, Xanatos shakes his head. “You were right on that account. I did have it handled. But that does not mean you should presume everything is going accordingly without your presence. It is your job to handle the operations here on Bandomeer. Not mine. You should be there to address any problems whether I am here or not. If you were there, perhaps I would have consulted you on these,” he gestures to his datapad, “before I signed them. As it is, now you will be required to carry out these orders without question.”

Wh-what orders?” Jemba splutters, taken aback and flailing a little.

Without a word, Xanatos picks up a third datapad that has been sitting on the edge of the table all morning. A spare an Arcona brought him with breakfast at his request. There was no way Xanatos was going to let Jemba get his slimy hands all over his own datapad. Quickly, he transfers a copy of the documents from his datapad to the third. This way he’ll have the original copies in case somehow Jemba’s go…missing.

At his nod, Olau steps forward to take the datapad from Xanatos and hands it over to Jemba. Xanatos smirks at the way Olau very carefully does not let their fingers brush the Hutt’s.

The Hutt frowns down at the pad in his pudgy fingers, squinting to read the text. After a few moments, his eyes widen with a start and he hurriedly flicks to the next document. Then the next, and the next.

“Th- this is absurd!” the Hutt splutters. “This must be some kind of- some kind of joke—

“It is most assuredly not a jest, Jemba. You will follow these orders to the letter.”

“You cannot seriously mean to—”

“There are plenty of others who would gladly fill your position, Jemba. It would not take much effort to look.”

Jemba scowls down at the pad in his hand, face scrunched grotesquely. “You realize the costs of providing regular medical care to slaves? And to buy only slaves with a severe criminal record from now on? Let alone all these other changes?”

“I am quite aware, Jemba.”

The Hutt glares up at him. “This is sudden change. Very sudden.”

“One long in the making and sorely needed.”

Jemba stares at him for a long, tense moment more. Then he relents, ducking his head and tucking the pad against his side. “As you say, my Lord.” Turning, he begins to leave the room without a word.

“Those changes are effective immediately. I hope you understand.”

The Hutt pauses, half twisted away from him. “Yes, my Lord. I understand perfectly.”

A cruel grin slants across Xanatos’ cheeks. “I’m glad you do.”

When the Hutt has disappeared down the hall with only a faint putrid stench and a trail of slime to remember his presence by, Olau turns to him. Shock and approval twists about them, dizzying shades of relief flutter like in a light breeze.

“I- I didn’t expect—”

“No, I know you didn’t.” His grin softens into something more genuine, teasing. “I rather think there’s actually a lot you don’t know about me, Olau. Perhaps I’ll continue to surprise you.”

And perhaps this will help you trust me with everything you’re not telling me.

Olau’s shoulders dip like they’ve been rigid this entire time. “Good surprises, I hope.” Astoundingly, their tone is equally teasing, almost breathless with bewildered joy.

Xanatos tilts his head, smile quirking. “Perhaps.”

Startled laughter coughs out through Olau’s mask. Xanatos’ eyes widen with wonder and astonishment. He’s never- he’s never heard Olau laugh before. Even with the mask it’s a wonderfully light sound. Bright and clear. Bewildered, Xanatos wonders what it would sound like unfiltered, with no mask wedged between them.

“Come, my Lord,” Olau chuckles as they gesture towards the door. “Let’s hope there are no surprises waiting on Ossus.”

Obligingly, Xanatos stands. The soft grin that has wormed itself onto his face warms his cheeks for the rest of the day.

-:-

“How would you like some food, Bruck? How long has it been since you’ve eaten?”

Bruck stares down at the clunky ring of metal about his left wrist. It’s heavy and digs into the bone, seeming to weigh down his entire body, or- or shackling him to his father. Because that’s what it is. A shackle. A red light blinks along the side, mocking.

The cuff is like ice.

“Bruck?”

A touch to his shoulder.

Bruck startles, flinching into the corner of his father’s private transport. “What?”

His father frowns down at him. The city flashes through the window behind him. “Would you like to get something to eat? Your mother and brother won’t be home until later. Maybe you’d like for me to tell you about them?”

Mute, Bruck nods. He stares out the window and doesn’t bothering listening to his father give directions to the driver. He’s got to contact Master Jinn. He has to let them know about the data Den managed to steal and that Xanatos is going to Ossus. Maybe there’s something important there Master Jinn needs to know about, or maybe there’s a reason why the Jedi had those—

He gulps.

Those Force-suppressors.

They have to be for Xanatos. Maybe Master Jinn is going to arrest his old apprentice once they get enough evidence.

Pressing his fingers to the unrelenting metal of the new cuff on his wrist, Bruck grimaces. He can’t do anything with this cuff.  He has no idea how to get it off without blowing half his arm off, as Moulti kindly told him would happen if he tried. There’s no way he can make it back to Den’s hideout or the ship without revealing those places to Moulti.

All Bruck knows is that he has to get away. That’s the only way he’ll be able to get some sort of message to Master Jinn, though he has no idea how.

“Oh, Bruck. Here. Clean yourself up before we go in. You’re a sorry sight.”

Glancing up again, Bruck automatically takes the handwipe from his father. He frowns down at it, then looks back up at his father in question. The man huffs, then point to his own face.

What?

Bruck lifts a hand to his cheek, then flinches as his fingertips encounter something crusty.

Den’s blood.

“Oh,” he says dumbly.

“Yes, well.” Bruck’s father shifts uncomfortably, staring at the blood before averting his gaze to something less disturbing past the window. “Best get that cleaned up. Can’t be upsetting the other patrons where we’re going.”

“Okay,” Bruck whispers, voice cracked and distant. He lifts the wipe to his face and brushes it against his cheek. It does nothing. He scrapes at it harder, nails biting through the cloth. Then moves on to his shoulder. His arm, where flecks of dried blood cling to the hair there. His eyes burn with more than just exhaustion.

When he silently hands the wipe back to his father, the man tuts then takes the cloth for himself to harshly rub against Bruck’s hair.

“You missed some,” his father mutters.

“Sorry,” Bruck mumbles, something awful and heavy knotting his gut and pressing at the back of his throat.

After a few minutes, his father attempts to slick back Bruck’s hair but utterly fails. In the end he just brushes Bruck’s bangs to the side and pulls back to cast a critical eye over him. “Well, you’ll just have to do. We can get your hair cut later. If there’s anything on the Holonet it’ll be easy enough to explain that I’ve just rescued my long-lost son and wished to share a meal with him before taking him home.”

Then why take me out at all? Bruck wants to scream. If you’re so worried, why not bring my straight back home instead of parade me around and forget that I’m tired and scared and I just want to sleep and forget all this ever happened?

But Bruck doesn’t say anything.

It’s a while longer until they reach whatever restaurant his father wants to take him to. It’s in the middle of a rather wealthy looking district. He can’t tell where they are in relation to the UniFy building or Katharsis Dome. The restaurant is on the first level of a rather tall building with windows are so tall and wide it’s easy to peer inside and see all the patrons, and for them to glance outside and see you. The rest of the building glitters silver in the sun.

Bruck almost cries in relief. He’d been ushered out of UniFy so quickly he hadn’t been able to get a look at the sun. Now he knows it’s just after midday.

His father leads them through the front entrance where they’re greeted by a host who immediately bows and leads them to a private little booth in the back. The ceiling rises high above them, finely detailed in gold designs Bruck can’t quite make out. Chandeliers hand heavy and sparkle with an opulence that frankly makes him uncomfortable. All the patrons are seated at booths and tables topped with vibrant flower arrangements and various glasses of liquor. Each person dresses in clothes far finer than Bruck has ever seen.

Very quickly he decides that his gaze is best fixed on the floor in front of him, so he can ignore any stares. Just on the edge of his senses he can hear the sound of a holopic being taken.

Their booth is thankfully quiet and partly tucked away behind a dangling plant Bruck can’t name. The server leaves them to look over their menus. But before Bruck can even open his, his father puts a hand on the menu’s cover.

“How about I choose for you, hm? I’m sure you’ve had none of it before and I’d like it to be a surprise.” His father winks.

Bewildered, Bruck nods and sits back to let his father peruse the menu on his own. When the server comes back the man points silently at a few items on the menu, then she leaves again. Bruck fights the urge to focus his attention somewhere else, but in the end he meets his father’s eyes.

His father grins. “Well, shall I tell you about your mother and brother then?”

What proceeds is possibly the most painful conversation of Bruck’s life.

His brother Kad is a couple years younger. Their parents had him when they realized they needed a new heir. Apparently Kad looks a lot like Bruck: white-haired and blue-eyed, maybe a bit more broad-shouldered. He’s still fascinated by the Jedi no matter how his father tries to steer him away. But, his father reasons, maybe now that Kad’s hero Bruck is back he’ll understand how awful the Jedi are.

His father mentions the Jedi a lot, intermittently ranting about their vices. The Jedi are arrogant, cultish, selfish. Clearly they enjoy the power their prestige brings them and don’t really care about anyone but themselves. If it weren’t for the Jedi, Telos would be peaceful. It was the Jedi after all, who are responsible for the Telos civil war and the bombardment of their planet during the Jedi Civil War thousands of years ago. The Jedi are the cause of so much pain I don’t know why I even let you go, Bruck. Those Jedi must have used those horrific mind tricks on me. You must understand, Bruck. They cast you out, after all.

Bruck grits his teeth through it all, focusing on the feel of frigid metal about his wrist. There’s a flicker of awareness, of something outside. But before Bruck can focus on it his father says:

“We’ll get you the best schooling, Bruck. Tutors at first. We’ll see how you fare with what those Jedi taught you. Knowing them, you’re probably unprepared for the real world. But no worries, we’ll get you caught up in no time. Then it’s off to a real school for you! Maybe I can even get you interested in politics, eh?” He winks and Bruck smiles past a grimace.

The food comes in the middle of his father telling him how wonderful his mother is. She helps run various charities all over Thani, working closely with UniFy for the benefit of the people.

Unsurprisingly, the food is stranger and richer than anything Bruck has ever eaten. All the plates are wide and elegant with only tiny morsels of intricately placed food in the middle. Bruck sticks to just plain water instead of whatever green bubbling thing sits in his other glass. He can’t even decipher what bits of food might be what. He thinks this delicately sliced thing might be a pear, and the shredded pile next to it might be…sunfruit?

Oblivious to Bruck’s caution, his father digs into each dish without much thought, speaking between bites and drinking some sort of champagne out of a tall, delicate flute.

Not once does his father ask what it was like with the Jedi. If Bruck had left behind any friends or if he had any favourite subjects.

It was all just about…his almost-perfect brother and definitely-perfect mother.

Bruck can only eat a few tiny forkfuls of food even though his stomach twists in hunger. The food is too rich and strange. It just makes him sick.

Oh.

Wait.

Deliberately, Bruck shoves another forkful of something too spicy into his mouth as his father chatters on about how important being the Treasurer of Telos is. Then, equally as deliberately, Bruck gags, fork clattering loudly on the table as he hunches over and clutches his stomach.

“Bruck?”

“It’s- it’s okay,” Bruck chokes out, letting tears burn his eyes. “It was just…too spicy. I’m fine,” he says, clearly not fine. Slowly, he looks up and reaches out for his water glass. Drinks it. Moans in pain.

Bewildered, his father stares at him. “Are- are you okay?”

“I’m—” Bruck forces a gag again and another moan. Hurriedly, he stands up, “No, no I— It was too much, I can’t—” Tears spill over his cheeks. “Where’s the- the refresher?”

His father makes an abortive move to stand up. “Oh- it’s, uh, through there.” He points somewhere behind Bruck.

“Thanks,” Bruck mutters quick and tight, then rushes off.

Discreetly tucked behind a corner, the refresher is fairly easy to find. Bruck slams through the door. Luckily there doesn’t seem to be anyone inside, all the stalls are wide open. Along one wall is a long mirror and black-lacquered sinks. High up on the wall directly opposite is a narrow window that spans the entire length of the refresher. It ends directly above the farthest stall.

Perfect.

Bruck rushes over to the stall and bangs the door shut behind him, locking it with a click. Hurriedly, he squats on the toilet and waits with bated breath. Not a minute later, the door to the refresher creaks open and a hesitant voice calls out:

“Bruck…? Son? Are you all right?”

“I’m, hnngh— Uh, I’m o-okay,” Bruck croaks out, voice strained.

Embarrassment flickers along the edge of his awareness.

“Oh,” his father says. “Uhm. Do- do you know how long you’ll be?”

“P-probably a while. I’m- I’m sorry. The food- it’s just—” He moans loudly in pain, maybe a bit too exaggerated. “T-too rich.”

His father hums in concern, then steps closer.

Panicked, Bruck splutters out, “It’s okay, father! Just- just finish your food, okay? Someone might as well finish that food, yeah? D-don’t want you spending your entire time in here with me.”

His father pauses, his presence warming faintly with pride. Oh. Bruck had called him father. “If you’re sure. I’ll be waiting back at the table. Maybe, uh, get you some juice or something. What does Kad have when he’s sick…” Muttering to himself, he exits the refresher leaving Bruck alone in the room.

Bruck holds his breath again, listening intently to see if his father is going to come back. But there’s still only silence a minute later. Bruck lets out a relieved breath, slouching boneless. Then his cheeks heat in embarrassment.

He actually does have to go. He hasn’t used the refresher in…he can’t remember how long.

So he’s as quick as he can, rushing out to the sinks to scrub at his hands after he’s done. Then he locks himself in the stall again and peers up at the window. It’s just tall enough that Bruck can squeeze through. The latch is on this end, too, cranking so that the window can open and air out the room. He thinks if he opens it fully he’ll be able to slip into the alley behind without anyone aware.

At least he hopes he can.

Scowling, he looks down at the tracker on his wrist. If he didn’t have this it’d be so much easier. He has no idea what he’s going to do once he gets out of here. Pretending to be sick gives him a bit of time before his father comes looking again, and hopefully that Khil woman won’t realize he’s escaped until his father calls her. But after that…he’ll be captured right away.

But something tells him if he doesn’t sneak away now he’ll never get the chance to tell Master Jinn anything he knows.

Bruck gulps. He’ll figure something out. Somehow.

So he clambers up on the toilet seat and reaches up to the window latch. His fingertips fall short. Scowling, he stretches up on his toes but still can’t reach. But then—

“If you truly are in danger and we are not there to aid you, rely on the Force. Jedi must not simply rely on a weapon to save ourselves. We are more than that. Remember your classes, listen to your instincts. You will find a way.”

That’s what master Jinn told him.

Brucks frowns up at the latch. Then he breathes in deep and exhales shakily, closing his eyes and reaching out with his mind.

The window slowly but surely creaks open.

Barely daring to hope that it’s real, Bruck opens his eyes. The window is indeed open. He barely manages to swallow back a whoop. Grinning giddily, sweat beaded on his brow, Bruck crouches and puts a little Force behind his jump. His fingers hook onto the window sill, metal biting into his flesh.

Somehow, he manages to haul himself up and through the opening, elbows and shoulders blades scraping painfully. He drops down into the alley. All that greets him are a few stray dumpsters. The city bustles along either end, bright and loud.

Somewhat dazed, Bruck reorients himself, trying to figure out which end leads to the back of the building instead of the front. Heart rapid in his breast, he turns to the right, absolutely sure he’ll be able to escape unnoticed that way.

Something warm flickers behind him.

“Bruck?”

He freezes, breath stuttering and stomach dropping.

Then he actually recognizes the voice.

He turns around.

There at the front end of the alley is Knight Aylward. The man stares at him, takes a halting step forward, then another and another until he’s rushing down the dark alley towards Bruck.

Something odd breaks within him.

“Kn-knight Aylward,” he rasps, real tears suddenly burning his eyes and spilling hot down his numb cheeks. “Knight Aylward,” he nearly sobs.

When the Jedi reaches him, the man gathers Bruck into his arms, embrace tight but so ridiculously comforting that Bruck actually does begin to sob uncaring of how un-Jedi-like it is.

“Oh, Bruck!” Knight Aylward murmurs, relief palpable in his voice. He buries his face in Bruck’s stringy hair. “I was so worried! We couldn’t find you! I’m so sorry it’s taken so long!”

“I-it’s okay,” Bruck hiccups. “It’s m-my fault. I sh-shouldn’t have—”

No, Bruck.” The man’s arms tighten around him. Bruck buries his face in the man’s chest, fingers traitorously clinging to the man’s clothes. “You were our responsibility the moment we found you aboard. We should have kept better track of you, found you sooner. It’s my fault.”

Frantically, Bruck shakes his head, forehead rubbing against soft cloth. “N-no. Y-you don’t understand what’s happened. I-I— Knight Aylward, it’s all my f-fault.

One large hand cards soothingly through Bruck’s hair. “I’m sure whatever happened wasn’t entirely your fault, Bruck. We’ll discuss it later, okay? Right now, we have to get out of here.”

Bruck pulls back reluctantly. Shaking, he holds up his wrist. Knight Aylward stares at it in confusion.

“I-it’s a tracker.” Bruck swipes at his face, scrubbing the tears away. “I can’t go anywhere. I-if you take me they’ll f-find you. UniFy, I mean. They c-caught me.” His voice hitches. “A-and they found my father.”

Knight Aylward’s face darkens. “But you were escaping?” He glances around the alley pointedly, then catches sight of the window.

“Yes! Uhm.” Bruck clears his throat of tears. “I-I found someone who helped me steal some data from UniFy. Th-they d-died,” he chokes, makes his way through it, “b-but I know wh-where some of the data is.”

Knight Aylward stares down at him, shock bright in the Force.

“And Xanatos is going to Ossus,” Bruck rushes on. "I d-don’t know why. But he’ll be there soon.”

Knight Aylward opens his mouth, closes it. Then an unexpected smile begins to curl his lips. Something soft and foreign radiates from him. Something that- that Bruck thinks—

He thinks it might be—

“My, you have been busy, haven’t you?” The man reaches out and ruffles Bruck’s hair. “I know someone who can check out the data when we leave. We’ll worry about the tracker later.”

Bruck stares up at him. “Y-you’re taking me with you?”

Knight Aylward frowns. “Of course I am, Bruck. I wouldn’t leave you.” He lays a warm, steady hand on Bruck’s shoulder. “Now, we really do have to leave. Our ride is waiting on the street. We can let Andra know where to look for the data and then escape Telos, okay? Then you can tell me everything that happened.”

“Okay,” Bruck says dumbly. “Okay.”

Knight Aylward leads him back down the alley. By the time they reach the end of it, sun nearly blinding, Bruck has begun to cry again.

Chapter Text

Feemor has had a pretty miserable last few days.

First, he finds out that his Master’s first apprentice (the one who got him renounced by the way, very lovely that) is alive and kicking, probably quite literally. After that, he’s doing his best to comfort a Padawan in the middle of a panic attack because her runaway friend (someone else who’s messed up Qui-Gon, what is it with his old Master and troublesome children?) was about to die in a vision that might take place during their next assignment. Then, Force above, a desperate child stows away on their transport during a dangerous, undercover mission by putting on a Sith-forsaken Force-suppressor. Later he loses said child, and nearly goes out of his mind with guilt and worry because Bruck is his responsibility and who knows what happened to him?

Thank Force for Andra and her contacts because he doesn’t know what he would have done if the second slicer she commed (the first never answered) hadn’t chanced upon a photo of Bruck on the Holonet under a new article speculating about Telos’ Treasurer and—

Well, Feemor hadn’t cared much beyond that because he was too busy rushing out to the speeder the slicer had shown up in.

And then…

Then.

Feemor feels his face twisting into an expression he’s very glad he can’t see. Sitting on the edge of the cot in one of the small sleeping quarters aboard their ship, he very carefully tucks the blankets up to Bruck’s chin. Even in sleep the youngling’s face is wrinkled in worry. The space between his brows looks painful. It won’t surprise him if the child wakes with a headache.

Tiredly, he smooths the ghost-white hair from Bruck’s brow, something sharp spiking in his gut when he notices the trace remnants of flecked blood hidden in the tangled locks. The child had been much too exhausted to clean himself up in the ‘fresher. When he wakes Feemor will make sure he spends as long as he needs in the sonic.

Frowning, his gaze flickers to the pile of musty, sweaty clothes in the corner. He’ll have to quick cut and sew up a new set for the child. He could simply wash the old ones, he supposes, but…His nose wrinkles. The child had crawled through sewers in them. Blood was stained on the shoulder and bottoms of his trousers. He’d much rather butcher his outer robes and what’s left of Bruck’s tunics than let the youngling wear them again.

The ship rumbles quietly beneath him, smooth in hyperspace despite Qui-Gon’s misgivings.

Wordlessly, he turns to Bruck once more and scowls at the tracker peeking out from beneath the covers. Already the heavy thing has worn the youngling’s wrist raw-red. Peering at it, Feemor notices that there’s just the slightest bit of room between the clunky metal and the boy’s pale skin.

Without much thought, he gets up and retrieves his own folded outer tunic and cuts a few strips from the sleeves. He sits down again, careful not to disturb the sleeping child, and quietly lifts the boy’s arm so he can slip the fabric between the boy’s bony wrist and the unforgiving metal. It takes a couple minutes of careful work but soon enough he’s effectively wrapped the strips and tied them so the tracker won’t bruise or blister Bruck too badly.

Bruck doesn’t even twitch, he’s so deep asleep.

Fury chokes him and he quickly releases it into the Force because he won’t have his own wayward emotions disturb the boy’s well-deserved rest.

Besides, he has more important things to do than wallow in his own frustration and guilt.

These last few days have been miserable and he’s had quite enough, thank you very much.

Silently, he picks up the discarded clothes, drapes his tunic over his shoulder and slips out of the room, letting the door slide shut behind him.

No need for the child to wake up to this conversation.

He dumps the dirty clothes into an empty locker and sits down at the communal table to wait. To pass the time he gets out his sewing kit and starts working on making Bruck some new clothes. Fortunately the boy hasn’t yet hit his growth spurt and he has plenty of fabric. It’s easy to recall Bruck’s measurements from when he first modified the boy’s Initiate tunics. It might be a bit baggy, but as long as it fits okay it’ll be all right.

By the time Qui-Gon comes out of the cockpit Feemor has already cut out all the panels he’ll need and has begun to sew a new pair of trousers.

“Andra will let us know what she finds,” Qui-Gon says, observing the way Feemor neatly finishes stitching one side of a leg and starts on the other. “If something happens to us then she’ll be able to contact the Council with your Jedi comm. It was a smart move to give it to her.”

Qui-Gon moves to the tiny kitchen and begins to boil some water. He never fails to go anywhere without a packet of tea.

“Hopefully the boy’s information is correct and we’ll find Xanatos on Ossus,” Qui-Gon calls from the kitchen. From here, Feemor can just see his old Master’s broad shoulders through the doorway, hair falling loose down his back. “But we’ve no hope of catching Xanatos unawares. That tracker is going to cause problems. They’ll know our trajectory and from there they can infer where we’re going. As soon as we come out of hyperspace it’ll be confirmed that we’re at Ossus.” He sighs deep.

A packet crinkling and the gentle sound of tea being scooped into a pot fills Feemor’s ears. He continues to sew, silent.

“We’re lucky it isn’t a model that can be activated remotely.” There’s definite irritation in Qui-Gon’s voice. “As it is, it’ll be difficult to call the Council and have them send out someone to deactivate the tracker before we can go back to the Temple. If we manage to capture Xanatos—” his voice hitches, but he moves on. “It’ll be best if it can’t be traced back to us.” He sighs again. This time it’s more of a rush of air than a weary breath.

“I knew that youngling would be trouble. He’s far too reckless, and his father is the Treasurer! A corrupt man if I ever saw one. We’re lucky we got the youngling back at all. I’m surprised he did not just stay on Telos with his family.”

The bitterness in Qui-Gon’s voice makes Feemor pause, hand hovering, needle clutched between callused fingers.

Qui-Gon pours the heated water into the pot. “It would have been best, even. I don’t see anyone taking him on. A man died because of his foolishness. Did you see Andra’s face when she heard it was Denetrus who died? The slicer she was so eager to contact for us? I rather think that if he had not died, they might have had a future together. But Chun—”

“That’s enough, Qui-Gon.”

The older man pauses, then puts down the kettle. Feemor does not look up from the fabric in his hands. Not even when Qui-Gon peers over his shoulder.

“Feemor?”

“That is a child you’re talking about. A little boy who’s lonely and desperate and was put in an impossible situation. Yes, he might have been a little reckless, but he did what he thought was right at the time.”

Qui-Gon turns fully this time. Feemor just knows he’s frowning, face set in that infuriating self-righteous expression. “Denetrus—”

“—was an adult man who knew better than Bruck what they were getting into.” Deliberately, he puts down the cloth and needle, but doesn’t look up at his once-Master. “He consented to the plan. Force, from what Bruck was saying he might have even encouraged it. I know plenty of young Padawans who would have gone ahead with it without consulting us. In fact, I rather think that if you were in the same situation, you would have done the same.”

“That’s different—”

“How?” Feemor’s head whips up to glare Qui-Gon down. “How is it different?”

Brows furrowing into sharp points, Qui-Gon scowls. “For one, I have much more experience than an Initiate. The boy is volatile, dangerous even. Who knows what he might turn into if given the chance—”

“Qui-Gon!”

The older man stares as Feemor slides out from his seat and stands. Something brilliant and aching twists in his breast, scraping against his ribs and when he opens his mouth it’s as if he might be able to breathe fire. The embers of his fury curls along his tongue, sparking against the back of his teeth.

“I haven’t mentioned it until now because I thought you’d just work through it.” He steps forward as Qui-Gon merely gapes at him. “But Qui-Gon. You are too afraid. You’re letting your fear rule you! Bruck is not Xanatos! You can’t just let what happened with that boy ruin what good is left of your life! You just can’t!” Burning hot sorrow wells up from some long-ago wound in his mind.

Qui-Gon backs up into the counter, eyes wide, kettle clattering behind him when he hand upsets it. But Feemor does not stop moving towards him.

“You are bowing to your own insecurities by clinging to that past and letting it rule you. That’s in danger of bowing to the Dark Side. You were my Master once, and I still respect you. But Qui-Gon, you hurt me when you renounced me. It hurt. You’re hurting everyone around you by not working past this. So many Initiates have been devastated that you wouldn’t take them on as your apprentice. And worse, you’re hurting yourself. You need to stop thinking about what bad could happen and think about the good that can.” He stops merely a step away from his dear, infuriating friend.

Mute, Qui-Gon still stares at him.

Feemor’s face crumples for just a moment, then he steels himself and resolve mostly smooths his features over. He thrusts a hand behind him, pointing towards the rooms just down the small corridor.

“That boy in there is lost and scared. Yes, he was born on Telos, but he is not his father. Nor is he Xanatos. He is himself. You can’t judge someone based on another’s actions. That’s cruel and impractical. That boy has done so much since he got here. Yes, he’s made some poor decisions, and he has an awful lot to improve on, but he’s done his best. I know what I feel in him, Qui-Gon! He would readily put others before himself! If he wasn’t that way before, then he certainly is now. He’s even proven that, by attempting to run away to warn us of the spaceport search and to tell us about the data and Xanatos!”

Heat flushes his cheeks but Feemor doesn’t much care. “That boy has been through too much the last few days. He’s been cut off from the Force, witnessed a new friend die and very well could have been tortured for information if they hadn’t found his father! His father,” Feemor spits, “who attempted to manipulate him for information and proceeded to take charge of his life without asking for his opinion at all. It took so much courage to not simply give in and accept the one person who seems want him.”

Tears burn Feemor’s eyes and he must take a second to gasp in a breath and blink them away, bewildered. Everything has been building up. For years and years. Ever since Qui-Gon renounced him. Ever since Qui-Gon showed up at his door looking so lost and forlorn. Ever since he found out that Qui-Gon lied and that Xanatos is actually alive.

That pressure has built and built, hidden beneath his breastbone. Pressing against his ribs and the proper Jedi veneer that he’s always worn without much thought because he is a Jedi. He’s never had a doubt that this is what he is meant to be. The Force has always been such a warm companion in his life, kind and mystifying. Something he’ll never truly understand but will always be grateful for because he doesn’t know what he’d do without it.

Now, Feemor stares into Qui-Gon’s stormy blue eyes. Nearly nose to nose with him. Suddenly, he realizes that he’s almost as tall as his old Master, his own shoulders even broader.

It’s odd. Qui-Gon has always seemed larger than life, and now…

Feemor must take a deep, steadying breath before he continues. That raging thing in his breast has nearly died down to just a shiver beside his rapidly beating heart. “Bruck is not who you think he is, and you are not who you think you are.” He pulls back just the slightest, grief pulling his face tight.

“You need to seriously reevaluate your life, Qui-Gon. When you’re ready to talk, I’ll be here for you. But right now that boy needs me, and I intend to help him.”

Feemor takes a step back, then another. Not daring to look away from the minute tremble in Qui-Gon’s shoulders and the way his throat bobs. Then he takes another step back and pivots on his heel. It takes no time at all to gather all the cloth and sewing materials into his arms and head back to Bruck’s room.

Thankfully the youngling is still asleep, brows furrowed but radiating fragile content in the Force. Feemor takes a few more breaths. Calms the curious fire and protectiveness that rumbles in his gut. Then settles onto the edge of the bed, stretching the unfinished trousers over his lap. He finds his needle folded beneath a layer of cloth and picks it up.

Even from here he can feel Qui-Gon’s conflicted, shaken feelings.

Guilt worms its way up his throat before he swallows it back.

It was needed.

This is needed.

He glances down at Bruck’s sleeping face. The curve of his cheek is so soft, so young. High cheekbones hint at the beginnings of a regal face.

Sorrow twists around his heart once again when he thinks of Bruck’s sobs just a few hours ago.

“It’s all my fault,” the boy had confessed, head bowed. “A man died because of me. I was reckless and did not heed your warnings.” His voice had been so painfully formal, not like how a child’s should be at all. “I will face my punishment.”

It had been…so strange. To feel the boy’s desolation, his utter and complete sincerity. From the way he spoke he truly believed he wouldn’t be accepted as a Padawan any longer, not after what had happened. And he was…accepting of his fate. Accepting the belief that he wasn’t fit for the Jedi Order.

It’s such a drastic change from the child who was desperate enough to stow away on a ship in order to prove himself and gain a Jedi Master’s respect.

The boy hadn’t listened to Feemor when he’d told him it wasn’t his fault, not entirely.

Feemor begins to sew the trouser leg again, falling into a light meditation.

Despite what Bruck now thinks (so stunningly different than just a couple days ago), Feemor believes that with proper guidance Bruck might be able to become a fine Jedi.

When they get back to the Temple Feemor will do his best to find Bruck a proper Master. Someone who will be able to help Bruck come to terms with his past and himself.

Something whispers against his mind, murmuring—

Feemor’s hand tightens on the needle.

No, despite what he’s beginning to want, he can’t. It would only be selfish. A selfish desire and a selfish action.

Bruck will find a Master, but that Master won’t be him.

-:-

Ossus is a curious planet. At first Xanatos wasn’t sure he’d actually scout it for kyber crystals, but the truth is it’s probably his best bet.

Every other known resource for the crystals is monitored by people like the Jedi or the Guardians of the Whills. As far as Xanatos can tell, Ossus is largely uninhabited and has been abandoned by the Jedi since the Great Sith War.

The Eye of Ashlanae, the Ossus Praxeum and the Great Jedi Library used to be revered throughout the galaxy. At one time, it was the centre-point for Jedi wisdom and all the knowledge in the galaxy. People from all over and from every Force-based religion journeyed to the Temple to gather and study and debate. But then the Dark Lord of the Sith Exar Kun and his followers invaded.

The Great Jedi Library had collected a great many number of artifacts, one of which included the Dark Holocron. The Sith tore the Temples and the Library apart looking for it. Ossus was doomed. Exar Kun murdered Odan-Urr, one of the most revered Jedi to have ever lived, converted many Jedi to his side, then destroyed the Temple and killed most of the fleeing survivors.

In the end, Ossus was nearly destroyed by an orchestrated supernova that killed the majority of all life on the planet. For a long time the planet had too much radiation for anyone to visit. But eventually it became habitable enough for archeologists to visit and discover that there was a new race of people called the Ysanna occupying the planet. No one seems to know where they came from, and any time scholars have tried to communicate with the Ysanna they’ve been unsuccessful at tracking them down.

Xanatos hopes they won’t run into any of those people around the Temples. If they survived the radiation who knows how they’ve adapted. At least he doesn’t have to worry about the Jedi. They never bothered to come back and rebuild what has been largely forgotten.

As their ship pulls into orbit and then begins its descent, scanning for signs of civilization, Xanatos sits back and stares at the burnt orange stretched out before him.

He remembers his lessons, even from years ago. Ossus used to be such a beautiful, green planet. Bursting with life and knowledge. And now…

Xanatos scoffs. At least Odan-Urr died along with his planet. That was one thing the Sith were good for: getting rid of the fool who wrote the modern interpretation of the Jedi Code and implemented many of the Order’s practices. What Xanatos wouldn’t give to shove his lightsaber into the gut of the being who said: ‘There is no emotion, there is peace.’

What a load of rubbish.

“Scans confirm the archeologists’ report,” Olau informs him. “There are indeed indications of ruins along a mountain range on the Southern half of the planet.” They fiddle with the controls for a few moments, then lock onto the coordinates. “We’ll be there in a few minutes.”

“Excellent.” Xanatos curves the ship down, hands gently guiding the yoke. Luckily that particular region of the planet is currently mostly free of electrical storms. But it won’t surprise Xanatos if there’s at least one before they leave.

Soon enough they’re gliding low over a sprawling range of ragged mountains. Though the planet was supposedly uninhabitable for so long, the surface is covered in a dense layer of rusty growth. Here and there Xanatos can make out green flushes within the plant-life, but it seems the radiation has discoloured nearly everything even generations after the disaster.

It's difficult to spot the ruins, though perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising. It has been thousands of years, after all. The city itself has blended so finely with its environment that it looks as if it’s part of the mountain itself, dipping in and out of crags, slumping over gentler curves of mountainside, hiding beneath arching trees and vines. But the two things that truly give it away are the giant, crumbling ziggurats hunched close together on an outcropping of rock. They perch in the very centre of the sprawling city of Knossa like some sort of ancient guardians.

“There,” Xanatos breathes. “We’ll land on the middle tier of the lower pyramid. I doubt we’ll be able to tell which is the Praxeum and the other the Eye of Ashlanae until we investigate further.”

Olau just nods. Awe radiates soft and warm about them.

Xanatos can’t blame them, it’s difficult to bite back his own awe. No matter if he despises the Jedi Order, this is truly something to behold. This ancient city. Even if it’s decrepit.

They land on the middle tier of the first Temple. It’s not that it’s shorter than the first, just that it sits lower on the mountain than the other. Alongside their ship sprawls what might have been gardens once upon a time and a series of half-destroyed balconies. From here they can see the occasional hint of wrecked ships scattered along the city. No doubt entombing the remains of unlucky citizens attempting to flee the destruction.

“I’m surprised the Order has not yet claimed the ruins,” Olau murmurs, gaze fixed on the spread of city. “It’s…I did not expect it to be as intact as it is.”

Xanatos huffs, reluctantly tearing his eyes from the view to complete the post-flight checks. “Well, the surviving Jedi did manage to escape with some artifacts. The Coruscant Temple had already been built so I imagine that even though they lost much of their knowledge, it wasn’t as terrible as it could have been.” With a bitter smirk he continues, “Of course it’s been so long that it doesn’t surprise me that the Jedi have left their history to rot. They’re much too concerned with their own affairs to be reminded of one of their greatest failures.”

Olau hums mildly in acknowledgement.

“Well, let’s go. The sooner we find the crystals the sooner we can search for the Library.”

Olau freezes, then very deliberately does not bolt out of their seat. Their excitement flutters along Xanatos’ senses anyway.

“What an excellent idea” they murmur.

Xanatos grins. When they leave the ship he only carries his ‘sabre and a small satchel with a canteen of water and some rations. If it takes until nightfall they’ll simply go back to the ship to rest and then set out once more. But he doubts they’ll be too long. The best thing about Ossus is its crystals.

Adegan crystals.

The rarest and most powerful kyber crystal of all.

And Adegan crystals, after all, give off a weak Force signature. Ossus has been left alone so long that Xanatos has no doubt that they’ll easily find the crystal caves. With how powerful both Xanatos and Olau are, the crystals will be singing themselves into the palms of their hands.

As Xanatos steps out into the clean air, he takes a deep, shuddering breath. The Force resonates about them, old and weary, still grief-stricken, but oddly warm and comfortable all the same. Utterly welcoming, even as the Temples still nurse their own hurts. Olau shudders along with him, their presence spiking bright.

It’s as if they’ve returned to a home long forgotten.

Glinting in the morning light of the twin suns, Xanatos’ comm lays neglected on the ship’s console.

-:-

Qui-Gon curls about his seventh cup of tea, idly sipping it. It’s long gone lukewarm. The stars streak past the cockpit viewport. He tries not to lose himself in it, but it’s easy to do. Especially with everything that’s on his mind.

He glances at the chrono. They’ll be at Ossus soon. A little while ago he felt Chun’s muzzy awareness brighten into waking. Feemor’s soft, calm voice still murmurs from down the hall, though Qui-Gon can’t make out the words.

Fingers tightening around his cup, he leans back further into his seat.

Chun.

He frowns and takes another sip. Feemor’s words have been ringing in his mind for hours now. Sleep barely came to him when Feemor wordlessly switched shifts. It’d been almost a relief to come back to the cockpit and let Feemor go back to the youngling.

“You’re letting your fear rule you! Bruck is not Xanatos! You can’t just let what happened with that boy ruin what good I left of your life!”

Qui-Gon is just being cautious. He knows the signs now, knows how these things go. He’s just…

“You hurt me.”

Qui-Gon knows. Force, he knows. When he first came back to Feemor he’d apologized and over the past couple years he’s seen just how his rejection has hurt his former apprentice. The man is startlingly competent, but there’s an underlying insecurity that’s ever present. And Feemor…Qui-Gon worries the younger man is too compassionate. Too willing to forgive and forget without taking proper precautions. Feemor has always been far too trusting for Qui-Gon’s comfort.

But then again, he’s never had a beloved apprentice turn against him, either.

Qui-Gon just wants to prevent what he knows is bound to happen.

Because even though Feemor says Chun is different and that the youngling won’t put himself before others any longer, he can’t believe it. Yes, he feels sorry for the child, and yes the child has been through much the last few days, but…

“Why should I base my self-worth on you, on an Order that is weak and self-righteous? On an Order that can’t even save anyone?”

So easily can he see Xanatos’ words spilling from Chun’s mouth. Hardly a night goes by when Xanatos’ Fall doesn’t play over and over again in his nightmares. Fire spits about them and sometimes Xani burns.

Always, Qui-Gon stands powerless. Unable to rush over, unable to help as he watches his almost-son scream and wail and twist in the shadows, that broken circle scorching his cheekbone through the darkness. A bright, terrible light.

Sometimes…sometimes it’s so difficult to believe that anything in the galaxy can be good. Not after seeing such a bright child grow up into something so hateful.

So how can Feemor ask Qui-Gon to reevaluate his life when he’s tried to so, so many times? What could he have done differently? What did he even do right? What—

He swallows.

What does he even want to do now?

The past few years he’s tried to understand Xanatos one minute and then forget him the next. Throwing himself into his work is…honestly only a distraction. He can’t- he can’t deny it. Nothing stops the nightmares. Nothing stops him from wondering.

Once long ago, a curious, pale-faced child stared at him from a large, white bed and said: “It was never your fault. Some things- Some things are just out of your control. You are a good man. Any Padawan would be lucky to have you. Please. Just. It was never your fault. So please stop thinking that it is.”

He’s mulled over those words since even before that youngling disappeared. How can a youngling even— What prompted the Initiate to say such a thing? How could he know that Qui-Gon is a good Master when Qui-Gon no longer believes it himself?

He’s tried to forgive himself. So many times he’s tried.

But he can’t.

Not when he failed to protect Xanatos.

Not when he’s hurt Feemor.

Footsteps sound down the corridor. Hastily, he straightens and attempts to appear as if he’s doing something of utmost importance and not wallowing in his own guilt and conflict.

Feemor steps into the cockpit, Initiate Chun right on his heels. The youngling now sports a matching set of beige clothing, looking more like a standard Initiate than he did before, though his baggy tunic is still lined in blue.

“We’re almost there?” Feemors asks, slipping into the main pilot seat. Chun stays by the doorway radiating anxiety.

“Yes,” Qui-Gon confirms, still clutching his tea. “Won’t be long now.” He glances at the youngling, then continues. “When Padawan Eerin told us of her friend’s vision…She mentioned a city and a Temple. Do you think…?”

Feemor frowns, then turns to the computer terminal. “If the vision rang truth, it could be Knossa and its Temples. But the planet has been abandoned for thousands of years, uninhabitable for most of that time. I can’t imagine that we’ll be able to find the lost city at all.”

“Actually, uh—”

Qui-Gon and Feemor both twist to face Chun who’s rather preoccupied with fiddling with his hands.

“Uhm,” the boy starts again, cheeks darkening. “It w-was covered in class a couple months ago. There have been some expeditions to the planet. Not, uhm. Very many. But someone did claim to find the ruins of the Temples.”

Feemor leans forward, intent. “Do you remember where they were?”

Chun frowns, biting his lip. Absentmindedly, he scraps his nails along one hand, presumably attempting to concentrate. “The Wes- no. The Southern Hemisphere. Near some…yeah. Some mountains.”

Feemor smiles. “Good. That’s good. We can start scanning the Southern Hemisphere first for signs of a ship. I rather suspect it’ll be easier to find than buildings that have probably been long grown over.”

Qui-Gon hums, frowning at Chun. The youngling continues to nervously pick at his fingernails and the dry skin along his palms.

“When we arrive, you’ll stay with the ship.”

Chun’s head jerks up at this. He opens his mouth as if to protest, then closes it with a click. “Yes, sir.”

At the defeated tone of his voice, Qui-Gon’s heart clenches.

“Actually, I think it’s best that you stay with us.”

When Qui-Gon looks at Feemor, the younger man casts him a significant look. Even from a few feet away Qui-Gon can feel the youngling practically vibrate with anxiety and confusion.

“I’m worried that something might happen to the ship while we’re gone. Best that you stay with at least one of us when there’s no telling what’s on that planet, let alone the possibility of a Fallen Jedi.” Feemor eyes Qui-Gon, then flashes Chun a reassuring smile. “We’ll make sure we’re in sight of each other the entire time, this time around.”

The Initiate’s face crumples, embarrassment and aching guilt roiling about him.

Qui-Gon sighs. “I suppose in that case, you’ll be needing your lightsaber.”

The question that’s been plaguing his mind since Bant spilled the vision’s contents looms in his mind. He’s done his best to ignore it. To cram it down beside other things he doesn’t acknowledge. Visions aren’t always truth, after all.

But…why would Kenobi be here of all places? Why would he be with Xanatos, unless…

Dread cramps his gut.

Unless Xanatos took the child as his apprentice.

-:-

By early evening they still haven’t found any Adegan crystal. Maybe Xanatos was a little arrogant in thinking that it would be easily found, but…

They’ve also been rather distracted by the first Temple.

It’s clear half-way through the day that they’ve started with the Praxeum first. It’s a place meant for sleep, training and study. The Eye of Ashlanae was the true headquarters of the Jedi High Council and served both as a memorial for fallen brethren and a holy place of meditation.

The Praxeum has five levels. From history lessons he sometimes wishes he can’t remember, he knows that each level symbolizes a part of the Jedi Code: peace, harmony and all that rot. But he has no idea which level represents what.

Some places are so dark that Olau must get out a small light to show the way. Xanatos would get out his lightsaber, but scarlet doesn’t exactly make for a good light source. Plus, he’s not keen on seeing this destruction cast in a bloody sheen.

The middle tier they landed on houses mainly dilapidated sleeping quarters. They’ve been extremely careful where they step since the structure has collapsed in some places and certainly threatens to collapse beneath any wrong step. Any cloth or bedding has long since rotted away. But beneath the creeping vines tucked away in tiny rooms with empty beds they’ve found small, long-forgotten things. A rusted medallion whose design they can no longer decipher. A cracked string of meditation beads, the leather cord long-disintegrated. A stray figurine, arms and legs barely movable but clearly meant for a child. A broken half of a Sith’s mask.

Olau lingers over the toy, running a gentle finger over the small, indistinguishable face. It seems with every step they take they slow. Ever since they stepped off their ship Olau’s presence has trembled with barely contained…something. Something that aches and throbs and threatens to boil over.

But whatever causes Olau’s distress wraps up neatly within their small body. Xanatos almost asks whether they should do this another day. Whether Olau needs to- to talk? To let out this odd mixture of old grief and bright-hot hurt, but…Olau doesn’t say a thing.

Not one word.

There are no bones.

It’s been so long that with the plant-life, wild animals and being exposed to the air, there’s nothing left to mourn. They have no idea how many people died here, whether they were Jedi or Sith or innocent bystander.

In a few of the rooms there are signs of creatures. Wild things that have burrowed and nested and dragged their prey back here to feast in the ruins of a dead city. A few times they hear rustling or the distant coughing laugh of some unknown thing hunting in the jungle. But thankfully, they run across nothing but plantlife, a few stray cackling birds and small, sneaking critters.

Balconies line the middle level, most of them broken line brittle bone. The gardens have long succumbed to the natural flora, forgetting any sense of order or colour beyond burnt oranges and dull browns.

The pools though, remain pools. Rainwater has filled them to the brim with sparkling water. Thirsty vines crawl into their depths and leaves sway gentle patterns of shadow along their surface. There’s a steady drip drip drip at one of the larger pools. The ceiling must have fallen sometime during the final battle and the broken remains scatter along the room, leaving half the room exposed to the sky above. The rain has worn a path into the stone, allowing for stray water to stream into the pool from one side.

The next level up is honeycombed with far grander sleeping quarters and huge rooms that Xanatos hesitates to say were meant for communal meditation. A circular room is cradled in the very centre of the floor. Though the chairs have long since decomposed, it’s easy to recognize a Council Chamber.

The very top tier is a disaster. Once, it could have been a library, but now it’s utterly destroyed. The contents have been completely ransacked and the ceiling has completely caved in, the winds and rain having destroyed what might have survived.

A terrible ache trembles up from his toes to rest in his temples, curled and twisted.

Olau lets out an aborted sound of grief, then reins themself in until they stand cold and dead like- like someone who has nothing left to lose, and everything to grieve for.

Flinching against the chill of his companion’s presence, Xanatos reaches out and places a tentative hand on their shoulder. Olau jolts, then looks up at him, helmet dully gleaming in the light.

“Searching the Eye of Ashlanae might prove more fruitful,” he murmurs, unwilling to raise his voice in a place so sacred and long-forgotten.

Olau nods.

They make the treacherous way down, weaving through half-collapsed halls and jumping over and sometimes down sunken holes to get to the next floor. The stairways are only minutely reliable.

On the way to the base of the ziggurat, they pass through the final two levels.

The tier below the sleeping quarters and gardens is full of giant grand, rooms. A few of them look like they might have been obstacle courses once upon a time. The mats have long rotted away, just like the bedding, but Xanatos thinks this might have been the training level. A few other cluttered rooms boast bits of rusted metal cradled between crumbling walls and creeping plants. Maybe this is where they crafted their weapons.

The jungle has completely overrun the ground level. There’s nothing to be found there.

As they make their way around the base of the pyramid to the second Temple, Xanatos struggles to ward off his despair. He hopes the Great Jedi Library won’t be as much of a disappointment. But even though it’s hidden somewhere in the mountains, Exar Kun still found it, and he still slaughtered the people he found there.

When they reach the base of the second Temple, they pause at the foot of the wide staircase which tilts up the side of Ashlanae until it ends halfway at a great, gaping entrance. The Temple almost looks…wounded. Ghastly gouges pucker the once smooth sides of the pyramid. Ancient rubble balances precariously on both ruined and still whole steps. It’ll be like finding their way through a maze on the way up: winding between debris, steeping over treacherous roots, avoiding completely dilapidated steps.

Olau shivers.

Xanatos does, too, but he won’t ever admit it.

Then they begin their climb, uncaring of the way the twin suns begin to dip below the horizon, casting the planet alight in a wreath of flaming sunset. The entire planet looks like it’s on fire.

The Temple beneath their feet welcomes them like a parched man craves water, and Xanatos dreads how the Library will feel. Each step hints at an agony that Xanatos wants to push away. In the Praxeum he could dismiss the ghosts of the past as his own overactive imagination playing with the shadows. But here, Xanatos truly expects some ghastly, wailing figure to emerge as they ascend the steps.

He knows that the Eye of Ashlanae is a place of vergence, just as the Temple on Coruscant. He wonders if that wellspring of energy soaked up the desolation and destruction here. If it fed like a starving man and during those thousands of years alone it wallowed in its own despair, twisting into a thing of grief and memory as the planet around it slowly grew back, a shadow of what it had once been.

Olau practically soaks it up.

Xanatos bites his lip, concern clawing at his ribcage as Olau very clearly tries to separate themself from the leftover feelings permeating the Temple. He knows Olau can shield, at least somewhat. So why is it so difficult for them right now?

He glances at the sky.

The first of Ossus’ moons has begun to rise, startlingly silver against its flaming backdrop.

“Perhaps we should return to the ship,” he suggests. “Ashlanae can wait until tomorrow.”

Olau shakes their head, stubbornly putting one foot in front of the other. “We’re almost to the top. It would be a waste to go back now. Isn’t Ashlanae the one with the crystals, anyway? We might find some here.”

Reluctantly, Xanatos nods. Ashlanae isn’t too tall, only about fifty metres and this staircase goes up only half that. So it won’t take too long to leave and trace their way back to the ship. Ossus Praxeum is the truly large Temple. Perhaps they’d spent too long exploring it.

“We’ll certainly be able to find the crystals here,” Xanatos says. “Catacombs run beneath this temple and bleed into the caves that honeycomb the mountains. We’ll find our Adegan crystals there.” It’s unfortunate the only entrance they can see is at the top of these steps. Hopefully from there they’ll be able to find their way.

Once they reach the entrance it becomes even more apparent that the majority of the Sith’s ire was directed here. Up close, when you can distinguish the flora from the rock, there’s no denying it. Xanatos vaguely remembers that the top of the pyramid is supposed to be covered in decorative carvings, outlining history and culture, displaying their complete devotion to the Force.

There are no carvings.

Not anymore.

There’s barely even anything to even have carvings on.

The top of the pyramid is a mass of jagged peaks, mimicking the mountain range surrounding them. The entrance to the rest of the Temple half crumples inward. Now Xanatos knows where all the rubble on the steps came from.

The rooftop used to be one of the most sacred sites on Ossus. The Jedi had carefully carved an intricate eye into the top, forever meant to stare at the sky. A benevolent sentinel watching as the suns and moons and stars circled above. A lonely eye spinning in the vastness of the galaxy.

The air shivers about them as the first sun dips below the horizon. A freckling of stars fade into existence.

“Oh,” Olau murmurs, voice hollow.

Without a word, Xanatos steps towards the entrance. After a moment, Olau follows.

They squeeze through the entrance, each footstep carefully considered and placed. It opens up into a dark cramped space that used to be much, much larger. But luckily, there’s a half-collapsed corridor that leads further into the Temple. They follow it.

What they eventually reach is the very centre of the level. It’s almost as if they’re standing inside of crater. The remains of the peak of the temple circle them like gigantic teeth, but give away at one side to reveal the spread of the forgotten city outside. Vines and snaking branches curl over the lip to dangle along the walls and whorl along the floor in intricate patterns. The entrance to a great staircase gapes in the floor to the left, a dark abyss. An ominous crack contorts along the floor from the hole.

Xanatos steps forward, then pauses. The floor beneath him groans. Frowning, he squints at vines. The pattern they make- it looks- it almost looks like—

Unable to bite back the chill that slithers down his spine, Xanatos turns to Olau, a question on his lips—

A shadow shifts at the break in the walls, disturbing the skyline. Desperation, resignation convulses against him, underlined with a depth of anguish that stutters the beating of his heart.

Bewildered and reeling, he spins to face whoever’s intruded, hand clutching the hilt of his ‘sabre. Olau’s blasters click beside him as they aim at the figure moving out from behind the wall, partially backlit by the curve of the sunset. Another slow step and the sun slants across regal cheekbones, casting into relief a once-broken nose that inspired much teasing years and years ago.

“Xanatos,” Qui-Gon Jinn says. “It has been a long time.”

Chapter Text

For a moment, Xanatos simply stares. Qui-Gon glows with an eerie, ethereal light as the dying sun slowly touches the horizon, falling to join its sister. Despite being a Jedi and supposedly in control of his emotions, the older man steadily pulses pleasenothisisitIhavetodothis. Anxiety and despair tremble with his every breath, roiling in the ancient ache of Ashlanae.

But then a tidal wave of emotion washes over the sudden numbness in Xanatos’ lungs and his lightsaber ignites with a terrible snap hiss that sizzles despite the chill of the air.

“Qui-Gon,” Xanatos snarls. His body thrums with energy, fueled both by anger and the spitting fire spilling from his hand. Olau shifts closer, blasters still trained on Qui-Gon, but there’s a quaking shock radiating from them that threatens to push itself up against Xanatos’ awareness. Xanatos bites down a frown but does not move.

There’s a tightness to Qui-Gon’s face that makes Xanatos want to laugh.

“We do not have to fight, Xanatos,” he says, sounding just like the proper Jedi he’s supposed to be. “But I would like to talk.”

Broken laughter scrapes up Xanatos’ throat, bursting into the empty spaces between them. “Oh, really? You are here simply ‘to talk?’ I sincerely doubt that.” Abruptly, he spreads his awareness out, searching for an ambush. Because surely that’s the only reason why Qui-Gon would search him out: to kill him or take him prisoner.

“Why are you truly here, Qui-Gon Jinn? How did you find me? And why, after all this time? I thought you’d had enough of your failure.” A bitter smirk twists his face and slowly Xanatos begins to circle the around the open room towards the older man. Footsteps light and creeping, careful of the vines beneath and the treacherous cracks in the floor. Olau remains a close shadow, alert and wary.

Just behind them Xanatos can sense another presence. Softly glowing, quivering with the effort to remain unseen, it hides in the hallway they’ve just left. But Xanatos can sense them all the same. He sneers as Qui-Gon begins to mirror Xanatos’ movements, keeping a respectful distance between them. The older man’s hand rests on the lightsaber at his hip.

“The Council’s heard of your dealings, Xanatos,” Qui-Gon says, voice grave and slightly pained. “Murder? Illegal trade? Slaves? What has become of you, my old Padawan? We visited Telos. We know what you’ve been doing to your own planet.”

Scoffing, Xanatos sweeps his ‘sabre in a mocking gesture. “The moment you and the Jedi Order forsook me, you gave up the right to have any say in my life.”

Qui-Gon pauses mid-step, then turns to face Xanatos fully. The sun illuminates half his body, leaving the other side in shadow. “When you’re severely affecting the lives of so many, we have the right to step in.”

Xanatos sneers. “Ever the meddling, altruistic Jedi. You know, someday you’re going to stick your nose where it doesn’t belong and get it bitten off.”

The reproving look Qui-Gon shoots him is so familiar that it aches deep in his gut and he must swallow back sudden bile. Fury burns in his throat and he struggles not to scream when he bites out, “So you’re here to put a muzzle on the rabid dog, is that it? Or are you here to mercifully put it down?”

Frowning, Qui-Gon shakes his head. “I’m here to take you back, Xanatos. You must answer for what you’ve done.”

Xanatos grins mockingly. “I thought you were here to talk?”

Qui-Gon scowls. “You aren’t willing to listen.”

In another life, Xanatos might have had enough time to prepare a fitting, cruel revenge against his old Master. It would have been oh so satisfying, watching his Master flail in confusion and attempt to navigate the traps Xanatos set for him. Until finally, finally Xanatos could watch the light leave his old Master’s eyes after their final confrontation. He’s driven himself half-mad some nights thinking about it. Fantasizing. Planning.

But somehow, he’s never been able to imagine those final wretched moments of his Master’s life.

(some small part of him shies away from it, trembling and sobbing, wailing to please stop don’t)

As it is, Xanatos is facing Qui-Gon far sooner than he likes, mind still reeling from the last few days of confused emotion. It’s as if his sanity hangs by a frayed thread, ready to snap at a moment’s notice, with any added pressure. If he’d had more time he’d be more composed, he’d think more clearly. But he doesn’t have that. He just has his own righteous fury and Olau at his back.

There’s too much to do about Sidious, about Olau. He never thought they’d be interrupted here. They can’t leave. Not yet. They still need to find the Adegan crystals, not to mention the Library.

Xanatos is not leaving this planet until he can discover the resting place of the ancient Jedi wisdom.

So Xanatos grins wide, teeth glinting in the dying light. He spreads his arms, presenting the illusion of uncaring confidence. “Oh, I’m willing to listen, Qui-Gon Jinn. But the question is, are you? You certainly weren’t before, so I doubt you will be again.”

Qui-Gon’s frown deepens, fingers twitching against the hilt of his ‘sabre. “You were the one who left, Xanatos. You were the one who wouldn’t listen to reason or believe what your father had done. I tried to help you. I tried to protect you, but you wouldn’t let me, Xanatos.”

You’re the one who left me! You didn’t try to help me!” Xanatos snarls. “You just told me to forgive my father and let go of my emotions! How could I?! How could you ask that of me?! I was young! Lost! You’d wrenched me from my home years before and suddenly the Council was forcing me back! Did you doubt my loyalty, Qui-Gon? Did you doubt my love?” His voice breaks then and shame floods his breast, aching between his ribs. He hadn’t meant to say that. But now that he has he can’t help but let all his frustration spill out, frothing his lips with madness. Uncaring that Olau is witness to everything, that whoever lurks in the hallways hears this, too.

“If you were truly trying to protect me you wouldn’t have let them send me back! Then I wouldn’t have had to face my father again. I wouldn’t have had to see my sister die.” His ‘sabre shakes in his hand, but maybe he’s the one shaking. He’s not quite sure.

Qui-Gon’s expression twists as if it might shatter. “They were your Trials, Xanatos. I couldn’t tell them no! If I had they would have pulled the Trials and made you wait longer. I believed you were ready, I thought you could face your father. I thought it would be good for you!”

“‘Good’ for me?!” Xanatos chokes out a laugh, disbelieving. “Are you hearing yourself? Telos was the last thing I needed! You were all I needed, Qui-Gon!” Wretched, his voice breaks again. “Just you.” He takes a moment to blink back hot tears as Qui-Gon stares back at him with wide eyes and mouth slightly agape.

“For years I tried to prove myself worthy of being a Jedi! Worthy of you. And then you just threw it back in my face! You and the Council! Maybe if you’d truly believed in me we wouldn’t be here!” Gritting his teeth, unexpected grief clenching his gut, Xanatos says hoarsely, “Maybe if you’d believed in me, I wouldn’t have to kill you.”

Qui-Gon makes an aborted step forward. “Xanatos,” he whispers, voice loud in the silence of the dusk. “It doesn’t have to be like this.”

“I think it does,” Xanatos says, voice cold, bones numb and thrumming.

Qui-Gon’s face crumples (and how satisfying yet horribly gut-wrenching that is), then he composes himself. Cool, Jedi veneer spreading thin. “On that last mission, I apologized for putting you in such a terrible position. I told you to forgive your father, yet keep secrets from him. You wanted to make up for your sister’s death by protecting him. I know. I understand. But I also told you that a Jedi must face his weaknesses…or be undone by them.” He sighs but does not move, hand still on the hilt of his lightsaber.

“I did care for you, Xanatos,” Qui-Gon continues. “And I am still sorry I put you in such an awful position. But they were your Trials, and you did not pass them. You betrayed me, and you betrayed yourself. You’ve done horrific things since and I will do whatever it takes to bring you to justice.”

Xanatos has to laugh then. Incredulous, bitter, with his heart breaking, Xanatos shakes his head, near breathless. “You are a stubborn wonder, as always. How can I possibly believe you cared for me when the Jedi Code forbids attachment?” A twisted smirk cuts across his cheeks, sharp and vile. “Though, I have to wonder…what is your weakness, Qui-Gon Jinn?”

With that, Xanatos grasps that small brightness in the hallway and wrenches it towards them.

A sharp, startled cry echoes in the hall and a small body rockets out of the shadows. The squirming thing comes to a rest just outside Xanatos’ reach, his grasp of the Force keeping it writhing a couple feet above the ground.

Shock shatters about him, from Olau, Qui-Gon and the heretofore unnoticed second presence in the hallway as they lose grip on their control. Xanatos peers at the frightened, pale face before him as someone rushes out of the hallway to freeze in the doorway. Olau steps forward, blasters pointed at both Qui-Gon and the third intruder.

The person in Xanatos’ grip is a child. Small and wiry, with stunning ice-blue eyes and ghost-white hair. He’s dressed in slightly baggy beige and blue tunics. A small lightsaber dangles at their belt. Xanatos ensures the Force curls tight about the child’s wrists so he doesn’t get any foolish ideas.

“Let him go,” the figure in the doorway says in a familiar voice.

A delighted grin creeps across Xanatos’ face as he glances towards Qui-Gon. “Oh, this is perfect. You’ve brought your ‘flawless’ former apprentice with you! Isn’t this such a lovely little family reunion.” Xanatos peers over the child’s shoulder, adopting a little wave with his lightsaber hand. “Hello, Feemor! How have you been, Padawan-brother mine? Still losing sparring matches?”

Feemor scowls at him, right foot forward, hand ready to snatch up his lightsaber in an instant. “Let the child go, du Crion.”

“Well, perhaps you shouldn’t have brought him in the first place. Though that is so like you, Qui-Gon. Bringing children into warzones, uncaring if they get hurt.” The way Feemor’s face tightens betrays the history that both Xanatos and Feemor know to be true. Xanatos meets the child’s gaze and considers him for a moment. Then his eyes slide to the clunky, metal band snapped tight about the boy’s left wrist, exposed now that the sleeve slid back during his struggling.

“Ahh.” Eyes widening, Xanatos raises a brow. “You are Vox Chun’s son, are you not? Bruck, was it?”

The boy freezes, the whites of his eyes practically luminescent. Reluctantly, he nods.

Xanatos’ lips quirk. “I take it that pirates were not the ones who forced you to steal data from my company, then?”

Bruck’s lips purse, neither confirming nor denying it.

Pity swells hot in Xanatos’ gut. Here is another young boy used by the Jedi. Chewed and spat out like so many others before him. Carefully, he lowers the boy to the ground and though he loosens his grip on the Force, he does not free him.

“I am sorry for what they’ve done to you, Bruck,” Xanatos murmurs. “The Jedi are so cruel for using children as a means to an end.”

The boy shakes his head. “I-it wasn’t their decision,” he blurts. “It was mine. I thought I could help, and I’d already—” He cuts himself off, paling even more.

Xanatos frowns. “Already what?” He glances between Feemor’s tight-pinched face and Qui-Gon’s disapproving one. “Tell me, did they steal you or are you just an unlucky Padawan?”

At Bruck’s flinch, Xanatos knows. Sympathy warms the Force about him and he can’t help but loosen his hold again until it only gently grips the boy. “So that part was true,” Xanatos muses. “The Jedi have abandoned you. Just like they abandoned me.”

Bruck ducks his head, takes a shaky breath, then looks him in the eye. “Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a Jedi,” the boy says. “I’ve come to terms with it.” But the way his voice trembles indicates that’s not quite true. Not yet, at least. “I’ll find my own path.”

For a moment Xanatos can’t breathe. It’s like he’s staring into the eyes of a younger version of himself. Young, grieving and frightfully out of place. If he reaches into the boy’s presence just slightly…he can taste the potential hidden there. The power. The thirst for knowledge and a place in this gigantic galaxy.

“That path could lay with me, you know,” Xanatos offers gently. “I know what you’ve gone through. I know how awful it feels, never belonging, never understood. We even share a home planet. I could teach you the ways of the Force, offer you a home.” He smiles, and gestures slightly towards Olau. “We’d welcome you. We’d listen. If you do not wish to stay with your father, you could stay with us.” His smile widens. “We could even become family.”

The boy’s eyes widen as Olau twitches in surprise. But before Bruck can even say anything, Qui-Gon’s voice cuts across the room.

“Isn’t one apprentice enough?”

Xanatos rolls his eyes and turns his attention towards his old Master who looks rather peeved. “And who, pray tell, is this apprentice you speak of?”

Qui-Gon’s brow furrows. The older man glances at Feemor who’s wound tighter than a spring and spilling anger into the Force like a sprung leak (how unbecoming of a Jedi). Then he points at Olau. “Kenobi,” he says. “Or am I mistaken?”

The way Olau seems to stop breathing certainly seems to suggest that Qui-Gon is not mistaken. But the way a twinge of fearpanicregret pulses from the small bodyguard makes Xanatos want to snarl again. Qui-Gon will not touch Olau. He won’t even let the man get near. Not if he provokes reactions like that from his friend.

(and Force, Olau is his friend, and how terrifying a thought is that?)

So Xanatos pulls himself to his full height, ignoring Bruck who has gone limp with shock and casts Qui-Gon a haughty look. “I believe you are mistaken, Qui-Gon. This is Olau. They are currently in my employ.” Though hopefully they will become my apprentice soon.

The older man’s frown deepens, then his eyes go out of focus like he’s listening to something no one else can hear. A few moments later he shakes his head. “No, it is Kenobi. I know it is. I’d recognize that presence anywhere.”

And it’s true, Xanatos thinks he’d also be able to recognize Olau even if their presence hasn’t been quaking near out of control since they set foot on this planet. Since they began to ascend the Temple.

Since Qui-Gon stepped into the light.

Olau’s presence has a certain…taste. Like bittersweet grief. And it shines brighter than anything Xanatos has ever seen. It’s as if Olau can’t quite separate themself from the Force. Like the Force is as much a part of them as they are of it, much more so than any Jedi or Sith. The Force sings peculiarly about them in a way that Xanatos can’t understand, and doubts he ever will.

Especially here, with the anguish of the past deep-set in their bones, threatening to bring forth nightmares from every shadow. Here, it’s as if Olau resonates with the Temple, companions in their misery.

Xanatos wonders if it’s because the Sith have devastated both the Temple and Olau’s life.

“Is this what you’re planning, then?” Qui-Gon asks, half-way incredulous. “Gathering together failed Initiates like some sort of cult? Do you intend to turn them to the Dark Side, as well?”

Everything seems to freeze for a moment, the dying sun’s light flashing as it begins to truly drip below the horizon. Xanatos frowns, heart deafening in his ear, rattling against his ribs. “Failed Initiate? What are you talking about?”

Qui-Gon frowns, too, glancing towards Olau whose hands have adopted the faintest tremble. “Do you take me for a fool?”

Quite belatedly, Xanatos feels Olau attempt to reign in their Force signature. Desperation pours off them in waves but no matter how hard they try, the Temple sucks at them. Feeding and pulling Olau towards it like it can’t possibly go on without them. As if now after so long, it’s found a companion and can’t bear to exist without their shared misery and understanding.

Brow furrowed, Qui-Gon steps and Xanatos, infuriated and protective, moves between the two, intent on shielding Olau from his former Master.

In that moment, Feemor takes advantage of Xanatos’ distraction and rushes forward, ground groaning beneath him. Seeing this, Xanatos turns back to back the man and raises his ‘sabre but loses his grip on Bruck. The boy twists away to stumble into Feemor’s arms. The older man curls protectively about him and pivots to put himself between Xanatos and Bruck, igniting his lightsaber as he does.

As their lightsabers meet with a terrible cracklehiss and Olau’s warning shot singes the hair at Feemor’s temple, there’s a rush of Force behind them. Then Olau’s raspy voice as they cry, “Wait—” Then, “No!” in a voice that cracks with distressing youth.

Anxious, Xanatos kicks Feemor in the stomach, sending the man stumbling back as Xanatos turns with his heart in his throat.

Qui-Gon stands just a bit closer, face grim but determined. In his outstretched hand rests a helmet that glints with fire in the remaining light of the sun. Olau’s helmet. He must have ripped it from their head as Olau moved to help defend Xanatos.

Heart pounding, Xanatos wrenches his gaze from the miserable yet triumphant look in Qui-Gon’s eyes to the small figure just a few paces away.

There, in Olau’s place, stands a boy. Arms still outstretched as if he can still summon back his helmet, put it back on and erase the last minute of his life. He’s about Bruck’s age maybe, though he’s alarmingly small and pale if he is. Short auburn hair sticks to his forehead and tangles about his ears. When he turns his head to meet Xanatos’ gaze with stormy eyes, Xanatos can’t help but notice the shadows smudged beneath them. Deep and dark, like they’ve always been there. Like they’ll always stay.

The boy stares at Xanatos with wide, wide eyes. Behind them Bruck makes a strangled sound and breathes out:

“Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

-:-

Obi-Wan hasn’t felt like himself since he took his first breath on this forsaken planet. Though to be fair, he hasn’t felt like himself in a very, very long time.

The last few years have been difficult, more than difficult. He spent months just relearning his body, ruthlessly coaching muscle memory into it and getting used to a child’s reach instead of expecting the strength of a gangly young adult or overcompensating for a weary old man. For months and months he sorted through terrible memories and woke up disoriented, unable to recall where or when he was. Sometimes he still confuses himself. One moment flying with the giddiness of a child and the next the frightened exasperation of a man too used to Anakin’s flashy antics.

Here, nightmares creep into his every breath. The despair of the Temples is inescapable. Exploring the ruins felt like someone stabbing him in the gut and twisting with such ruthlessness it was a wonder he didn’t weep. Phantom memories, either his own or the Temples’, dog his every step. Pulling at him, whispering, craving attention. Out of the corners of his eyes bodies slump, strewn across the ground, abandoned and forgotten like the faceless toy he’d found.

It had been difficult enough before Qui-Gon stepped into the picture. He’d managed to scrape by, remaining sane by focusing on Xanatos’ presence and the search for the Adegan crystals. He’d even fancied a few hopeful thoughts about the Great Jedi Library, imagining row upon row of somehow still-intact tomes.

But then Qui-Gon—

Qui-Gon.

(he nearly did weep then, at the sight of his old Master wreathed in fiery dusk, like something out the cruelest dream or the most rapturous nightmare)

“Xanatos…” Obi-Wan whispers hoarsely, feeling more like a child than he ever has. Not since years and years ago when Qui-Gon told him: “It is better not to train a boy to become a Knight if he has so much anger,” then promptly turned his back, condemning Obi-Wan to a life in the AgriCorps.

“You’re- you’re a child.” Xanatos’ face twists into something terrible- like betrayal or anguish or humiliation. Like someone promised to free him from torment only to rip out his heart as they dangled a bright star of hope before his nose. But there’s a certain resignation in his eyes, an acceptance that puzzles and almost frightens Obi-Wan.

Xanatos’ ‘sabre trembles deadly-scarlet light across the floor. It illuminates the man’s features in a ghastly way, casting shadows where there should be none. His eyes glow, ghostly twins of clashing colours, mirroring the creeping midnight blue and fiery whorls of the sky above.

“You’re a child,” Xanatos repeats, voice defeated. He glances at Qui-Gon, then shifts so his back isn’t exposed to Feemor (and isn’t that a shock, Obi-Wan has never met his first Padawan-brother, not even when he was a ghost of the Force). Bruck gapes at Obi-Wan and he clenches his fingers tight about the blasters in his hand. Bruck. He can’t even go there. Not now.

Xanatos lets out a broken laugh. “Qui-Gon called you a failed Initiate? Oh, how much sense that makes. I did wonder.” A dreadful smirk cuts across his face, stretching like it doesn’t want to be there. “Are you here to spy on me? Were you the one who told them where we were? You let Qui-Gon Jinn— Even though I told you—” He chokes, losing his composure even more.

“No,” Obi-Wan says, desperate. Xanatos’ misery lashes against him, bright and awful in the Force. “No, I didn’t. Xanatos, I would not do that to you.” Gaze locked with Xanatos’, he slowly crouches and lowers his blasters to the ground. Even though he doesn’t like the thought of leaving himself open to attack, he’d rather not incite Xanatos’ wrath, and Xanatos is so easily provoked.

Keeping his movements slow and methodical, he straightens again. “Everything I told you was the truth, Xanatos. Everything. There were some things too painful to tell, but you understand that. You understand what it’s like to wish that the past had never happened.”

Xanatos doesn’t move, his face still cut in deep lines of shadow and scarlet light.

Slowly, Obi-Wan brushes his senses against the nightmare that is Xanatos’ mind. It’s chaotic and painful to the touch, scraping and raw. Xanatos flinches and Obi-Wan holds his breath, then lets it out nice and slow. He spreads his hands wide and softens his body language.

“I would not lie to you, Xanatos. You are far too clever for that, and I would not want to, anyway. Yes, I was an Initiate,” once long ago and sometimes it feels just like yesterday, “but I had to leave. For many reasons.” Too many to count.

Eyes flickering to the side, Xanatos asks with a pinched face, “So you know Qui-Gon Jinn, then?”

Obi-Wan flinches and within the span of a breath and a blink he watches steel-streaked hair tumble over broad shoulders. Feels rough knuckles brush his cheek as a choked voice gasps, “It- it’s too late— Obi-Wan, promise me you will train the boy. He is the Chosen One. He will bring balance. Train him.”

Pained, trying to pull out of memories and stay in the present— the present, Obi-Wan, the present stay here don’t let go don’t give into the fire don’t get lost in the Force— he nods. “In a manner of speaking.”

Xanatos’ eyes narrow. A questioning phantom touch brushes against Obi-Wan and he resists flinching again. But whatever it is the man’s looking for he must find it, because the next second he’s baring his teeth at Qui-Gon in a silent snarl.

“It seems you’ll always leave misery in your wake, Qui-Gon Jinn.” Xanatos brandishes his lightsaber threateningly. “What did you do?”

Unable to form a protest, Obi-Wan looks back towards Qui-Gon, his Master, friend, lo— Biting through that thought, he agitatedly shakes his head to clear it, then squints in the dying light as Qui-Gon regards the both of them with a lost look. The older man cradles the helmet in his hands like he’s not quite sure what to do with it.

“I don’t know what you mean, Xanatos,” Qui-Gon says. “I haven’t done anything.”

Obi-Wan can practically feel Xanatos’ eyebrows raise in disbelief. “Really,” the man drawls, half-furious. “I can think of many things you’ve done.” He takes a menacing step forwards. “For instance, you’ve followed me here even though you shouldn’t have known where I was. How?”

Qui-Gon sighs, as if the answer to the question is obvious. “You told your head of security where you were going. Bruck was in the room and let us know when he escaped.”

When Xanatos glances at Bruck with a peculiar smirk, Obi-Wan can’t help but follow his gaze, eyes latching onto the boy half-shielded by Feemor. He hasn’t thought about Bruck since…he’s not sure when. He doubts he’s spared a single thought for his old bully until yesterday during Moulti’s comm call. That electric shock of memory courses through him again as he locks eyes with Bruck.

Suddenly, he’s very much almost-thirteen and standing across from a boy whose presence practically writhes with desperation and rage. Their lightsabers glimmer as they move over the mats towards each other, each intent on winning. Each intent on impressing Qui-Gon Jinn and becoming a Padawan.

Desperate to stay.

Now, though. Now, Bruck is still that ball of chaotic emotion, but he’s more grounded. He doesn’t feel like the Bruck Obi-Wan was so afraid and resentful of as a child. It’s like…looking at Bruck’s twin. Or his clone. Or an alternate self.

And who knows? This Bruck could be an alternate from the one Obi-Wan knows. There certainly shouldn’t be any reason why he’s here with Qui-Gon and Feemor.

(or maybe there is, something self-pitying in his mind whispers, maybe without you Qui-Gon would have chosen Bruck)

One of the worst things he’s had to come to terms with since waking up in the crèche, is that he’ll never know what exactly happened when the Force threw him out of time. He doesn’t know if this is truly his past, and if it is does that mean the future and the people he came to love no longer exist? Were they just…written away? Erased? Did they fall into the void as surely as Obi-Wan had, only Obi-Wan came out the other side while they were lost?

Or do they still exist? Just without him and in such a hopeless, dark future he can barely stand thinking about it?

For all Obi-Wan knows, the life he’s living now is in a universe parallel and completely different from the one he grew up in. Maybe something created by his own unexpected appearance in his past.

He has no idea.

And so when Bruck stares at him with the oddest combination of terror and remorse and joy, Obi-Wan realizes that this is something he must live with.

Because the Force certainly isn’t forthcoming with answers.

“Clever boy,” Xanatos says. “That was careless of me. However, it still doesn’t explain how you knew exactly where I was.”

Qui-Gon remains silent, as if he is unwilling to divulge his secrets. Obi-Wan can’t blame him.

“Come now,” Xanatos laughs mockingly. “Aren’t you going to gloat?”

When Qui-Gon speaks, his words aren’t directed towards Xanatos. “Your friends miss you, Kenobi.”

Startled, Obi-Wan breaks eye contact with Bruck to stare at Qui-Gon. Force, it hurts to hear Qui-Gon speak to him as if they don’t know each other. Somehow, it hurts even more to hear this beloved man call him ‘Kenobi.’

Weariness seeps into every line of the older man’s face, making him look far older than he actually is. The man steps forward, beseeching. “Even after two years, they haven’t forgotten you, Kenobi. Why don’t you come back to the Temple? I’m sure we can help with whatever you’re going through. Before you left, you told us you had visions.”

Feeling his face crumpling in grief or frustration or something else, Obi-Wan opens his mouth but Qui-Gon beats him to it.

“Your friends are having visions, too. About you.” Warily, Qui-Gon glances at Xanatos before continuing. “Eerin and Reeft. They’re what led us to you. Reeft saw you here, on Ossus. Amidst a ruined Temple.”

Obi-Wan can’t find any words. Something pulses deep within him, hot and urgent. Quaking with- with memory or feeling or— He frowns, finding it just a bit more difficult to breathe. Slowly, he pulls his hands towards his body and cups them over his sternum, like somehow if he tries hard enough he’ll be able to calm that fragile beating heart and the breathlessness in his lungs and that sharp, near-painful pull in his belly.

Why— He gulps, barely noticing as Qui-Gon steps forward again. Why would Bant and Reeft be having visions? The Reeft he remembers always had a propensity for foresight, it’s what got him killed in the end (the dull ache of Reeft’s untimely death sharpens for a moment and he’s thirty something again, bitter and fond and grieving over a man who sacrificed himself for the sake of children and refugees).

But Bant?

Bant’s only ever had a few brief feelings of prescience as a young child. Nothing more.

And…visions about him…?

“Why did you leave?” Qui-Gon continues, something urgent in his voice. Something Obi-Wan doesn’t understand. “Why are you with Xanatos?” There’s implication there, words unsaid that Obi-Wan can’t quite grasp.

“You wouldn’t listen,” Obi-Wan finds himself saying, voice cracked. “Y-you wouldn’t—” And how can he say anything more when it’s his Master asking this of him? When it’s the person he loved more than anything looking at him with such sad, confused eyes? When the Temple writhes in anguish beneath him, seeping into his thoughts, wailing torment and sorrow and whispering phantom words in his ear? When with every other blink a stain of scarlet memory bleeds through the cloth of Qui-Gon’s dark tunic?

“You didn’t give us a chance,” Qui-Gon says. “You disappeared after mostly giving us vague riddles we couldn’t hope to comprehend.”

“Maybe it was for the best they left,” Xanatos spits, barging into what feels like an unstable, intimate conversation, though barely anything has been said. Xanatos glances at Obi-Wan and something flickers across his face as the man amends, “He left. And how could he not? How can anyone expect help from the Jedi Order when they fail the very children they raise within their ranks?” He stabs an accusing hand at Bruck who flinches back behind Feemor, guilt and confusion muddying the boy’s presence.

Qui-Gon’s face pinches in frustration. “Not all are meant to be Knights—”

“That is not what I meant.” A gust of breath leaves Xanatos in a rush and he begins to pace like a caged animal, lightsaber still spitting scarlet in the waning light. Warily, Obi-Wan backs up a step, discarded blasters clattering at his feet. The snaking vines threaten to trip him up.

“We are raised to believe in the Order,” Xanatos begins as if he is reciting a lesson long-learned. “We are taught to believe in the righteousness of the Jedi. The Jedi are benevolent. The Jedi are just. The Jedi are wiser than any other beings in the galaxy. And yes, I suppose this is about being raised to believe that we must become Knights. That only the best are accepted by a willing Master while the rest are shoved off to the far regions of the galaxy become explorers, pitiable farmers or halfway decent healers. But it’s also about being indoctrinated into a religion that some of us simply don’t understand.

Xanatos swings around to face Qui-Gon, brandishing his lightsaber to emphasize his point. Takes a deep breath, recites, “‘There is no emotion, there is peace. There is no ignorance, there is knowledge. There is no passion, there is serenity. There is no chaos, there is harmony. There is no death, there is the Force.’” He takes a deep breath once more as if to calm himself. Obi-Wan watches the man’s frustration, noticing how his features slacken for just a moment, then tense again with urgency.

“This is the most widespread interpretation taught by the Jedi. The core of the Code. The lines that every youngling knows by heart, even if they don’t understand it quite yet. What the Jedi are so keen to forget, is that these lines are an interpretation and not simple fact. Odan-Urr,” he spits the name in contempt, “is revered as the scholar who clarified the Code for the Jedi. ‘The Teachings of Master Odan-Urr’ are taught to us all as ignorant, tiny younglings who know no better than to shut up and listen. We don’t debate. We aren’t encouraged to refute the Code or question if Odan-Urr’s interpretation is actually correct.”

Gesturing with his lightsaber, Xanatos sneers. “Right now we’re standing in the ruined home of the great Odan-Urr himself. And do you know what I’d like more than anything at this moment? I’d like nothing more than to see the Sith Lord Exar Kun bury his blade in Odan-Urr’s gut.” The words are full of hatred. Obi-Wan wants to retch.

“Because, you see,” Xanatos continues, “children like me can’t lock away our emotions like the perfect little Jedi you try to teach us to be. Children like me are forced to reconcile with the fact that they must forget their families even if they miss them, even if their fathers and mothers and sisters loved them more than anything. We have to force ourselves into a little box and cut away everything that makes us us in order to please you. In order to belong and be accepted.

“I tried to be the perfect Padawan for you, Qui-Gon.” Xanatos’ voice breaks, near trembling. “I tried, Force, I tried. And not once did you think about telling me to focus on the first, true words of the Code instead of the shambles that it had become. That idiotic interpretation that just didn’t fit with everything that I felt and knew to be true.” He closes his eyes, takes a deep breath again and says near reverently:

“Emotion, yet peace. Ignorance, yet knowledge. Passion, yet serenity. Chaos, yet harmony. Death, yet the Force.”

The words ring bright and true and touch the deepest parts of Obi-Wan’s soul, trembling within him with such joy and sorrow that tears well in his eyes.

Xanatos lets out a little sigh and his lashes flutter then rise. “But by the time I figured out what I’d been missing, I realized that those words didn’t fit me either. I was too far gone, too confused. It was far too late for me. Not after everything.” In the last glimmers of the sun, Obi-Wan swears there are tears in Xanatos’ eyes, too.

“The Jedi,” Xanatos says slowly, because Qui-Gon looks too stunned and wrecked to interrupt, “generally only endorse Odan-Urr’s interpretation. They think nothing of the children who are as confused about the new Code as the original Jedi were about the old. We are not clones, born and bred to fit into the same lifestyle and beliefs. You’d think the Jedi would understand that, since you believe not everyone is meant to become a Knight.” The smile on his face is unexpected and bitter. Like sorrow given form.

“The Jedi failed me, Qui-Gon,” Xanatos says softly. “And you failed me, too. How can I expect you not to fail these children, as well?”

“I—” Qui-Gon croaks, but can’t seem to find any words.

Xanatos turns to Obi-Wan then, expression pained but soft. “I don’t know what they did, Olau.” Brows furrowing, he briefly closes his eyes. “Obi-Wan,” he tries again, carefully. “I don’t know what they did, but I remember what you told me. You don’t have to go back to them. What I told you is also true. I do care about you, Obi-Wan. If we stand together, we can do incredible things.” His eyes bore into Obi-Wan’s. “We can help each other.”

Obi-Wan hears what Xanatos isn’t saying:

Sidious. Qui-Gon. Your brother. Together, we can do this.

And—

Oh Force, it would be so simple to give in. To have someone there by his side. Someone to share this pain and burden and to let everything, everything pour from his lips, but—

Xanatos also means to kill Qui-Gon, and Obi-Wan cannot possibly help with that.

Not in any lifetime. Not in any universe.

“I can’t give you what you’re asking for,” Obi-Wan says, voice older than he has ever felt. “I cannot help you with this.” With one hand he gestures at Qui-Gon, the words sticking in his throat.

The transformation of Xanatos’ face is wretched. Gut-wrenching and awful and something Obi-Wan wishes he never had to bear witness. Despair crumples his face, then the wounds of betrayal distress it, creasing smooth cheeks and furrowing his brow in rage and awful, awful acceptance.

“I should have known.” Xanatos speaks in a voice that sounds like the most wretched parts of himself have been wrenched to the surface and laid bare. “I’m always betrayed in the end.” Raising his lightsaber, he steps forward with a malice that chills Obi-Wan down to the bone. “At least I saw your true colours before it was too late.”

No, Xanatos,” Obi-Wan gasps, eyes wide. Heart frantically drumming in his breast, he tries to blink away Anakin’s terrible visage, tries to breathe past the phantom flame and think beyond the alien look in Anakin’s eyes. “That’s not—” Fumbling with the pouches at his waist, he doesn’t even think of the blasters at his feet.

There’s only one weapon that has never failed him.

(except for Grievous whose coughingmockingscraping cackle could only be silenced by the uneasy weight of a blaster in his hand)

“Don’t touch him!” Qui-Gon shouts but before he can do anything there’s a soft sniphiss and Feemor’s distressed voice crying out:

“Bruck, no!”

Xanatos swings around just in time to block Bruck’s desperate lunge. The boy reeks of fear, but his determination overlays that, helping steady his trembling hands and weak knees.

“What are you doing?” Xanatos hisses.

“I can’t let you hurt, Kenobi!” Bruck gasps through his terror. The bright blue of his lightsaber hisses and spits against the furious scarlet. Initiates’ lightsabers were never meant to withstand true battle. “I won’t let you!”

From this angle, Obi-Wan can’t see Xanatos’ face, but he can feel the man’s baffled admiration all the same.

In the next moment Feemor’s rushing forward again, shouting, “Bruck, child move!” and then he’s neatly sliding through Xanatos’ defenses, pushing Bruck back with a hasty sweep of the Force.

Xanatos laughs as he meets the unexpected strike, light on his feet as he shifts, ducks under another swipe and then parries. “It’ll be like old times, Feemor! How many credits do you want to bet that the outcome will be the same as it’s always been?”

“We’ve both changed a great deal since then,” Feemor says, voice tight. “For better or for worse.”

Obi-Wan gapes as the two men dance around each other, lightsabers flashing and crackling. Then there’s light touch on his arm, and Bruck’s pale face looms in front of him.

The boy leans in close, hissing, “Come on, we’ve got to leave!” Small fingers curl into his sleeve to tug Obi-Wan away from the fighting, lightsaber still burning softly in his other hand. “While they’re distracted! Let’s go!”

Obi-Wan stumbles after him for a few bewildered moments, then digs in his heels. It’s almost too easy to overpower Bruck after the last two years alone, training and traveling. Bewildered, Bruck looks back at him. When he tries to drag him forward again and Obi-Wan doesn’t relent, he scowls.

“What are you doing?! Are you crazy?! We can’t stay!”

Shaking his head, Obi-Wan starts to pull away. But Bruck holds on tight, nails biting through cloth.

“I can’t leave him!” Obi-Wan insists.

Bruck’s brows furrow, then he twists around to step into Obi-Wan’s space. “Listen,” he hisses, eyes intent. “I don’t know what’s going on with you, and I don’t know why you left or what you’ve been doing since. But Master Jinn and Knight Aylward will take care of this, okay? Which is why I need to get you back to our ship.”

“‘Take care of it?’” Obi-Wan echoes, dread twisting his gut. “What do you mean?”

A furious scream rents the air, startling Bruck enough that Obi-Wan wrenches out of his grip without any resistance. The vines catch his feet but he steadies himself enough to see that Qui-Gon has now joined the fight. Blue and green and red flash as the sun disappears behind the mountains, casting eerier shadows amidst the ruins. The three figures are writhing, manic beings. Leaping to and fro, twisting and turning in long-practiced rhythm.

It’s as if they’re reciting an old tale. One ragged and weary from use.

“You destroyed everything I loved!” Xanatos screams in Qui-Gon’s face, spittle flying. “You destroyed me that day, Qui-Gon.” With a well-placed fling of his hand, Feemor flies through the air to hit one of the walls. He grunts in unison with the groans of the ruins and tumbles to the ground, gasping. Xanatos pays no mind, simply forcing himself into Qui-Gon’s space, pushing and pushing until the man must give ground to his former apprentice.

“Yet I was reborn,” Xanatos hisses. “Stronger. Wiser. I have surpassed you.”

Horror burns vile on Obi-Wan’s tongue. He remembers those words. From years and years ago when he was only a child, hunched behind Qui-Gon as Xanatos spit with terrifying vehemence.

(remembers their almost exact like said to him through rasping, mechanical breath)

But Obi-Wan knows how that ended.

And, he thinks, watching as Feemor stumbles to his feet and slides a hand beneath his jacket to grasp the thing hidden there—

He knows how this will end, too.

So, when Feemor steadies himself and then begins to charge forward, nimble fingers curled about the slim, circular thing in his hand, Obi-Wan rushes to meet him. Without Xanatos looming above, it takes no time at all to open the pouches gathered about his waist. With the first true usage of the Force he’s indulged in for months, he summons the safely-kept pieces hidden within and assembles them in a matter of moments.

By the time he crosses Feemor’s path, there’s a glowing-hot lightsaber humming in his hand.

Startled by Obi-Wan’s sudden appearance, Feemor falters which gives him the chance to rip the thing from the man’s hand. He sends it flying into the abyss the stairwell guards. Horrified, Feemor watches the glinting ring disappear into the darkness of Ashlanae, then jumps aside to dodge the deadly curve of Obi-Wan’s blade before he can snatch it back.

“What are you doing?” Feemor asks incredulously. The man tries to skirt around him to help Qui-Gon, but Obi-Wan blocks his path.

“What is right.” Grim determination steadies his grip on the nearly too-large hilt. After much searching he’d found the lightsaber on the black-market months ago. Either abandoned or its wielder dead, it had weakly called to him, offering itself up in exchange for being given purpose again. Obi-Wan is reluctant to fiddle with its design. He knows his hands will grow into it given time. Lightsaber in hand, falling into Soresu’s comfortable stance feels as natural as breathing. The Temple thrums beneath his feet. He raises one hand to point two fingers at Feemor’s bewildered face.

Hesitance lines the man’s every movement as he raises his blade. “Child,” Feemor says slowly, as if Obi-Wan doesn’t quite understand the gravitas of the situation. “Xanatos has done much wrong. Why are you defending him?”

Obi-Wan doesn’t dare peer over to where Qui-Gon and Xanatos are still locked in battle. “He is not beyond all hope.”

Pity flushes across Feemor’s features. “Are you certain?”

Once, long, long ago. Obi-Wan stood among spitting pools of acid. It had been years since they were sparkling water, revered as one of the most sacred sites on Telos. But they’d been reduced to toxic waste and ruined beyond repair. Obi-Wan had stood between those pools gasping for breath, sweat hot on his brow, his Master frozen before him.

Once, when Obi-Wan was very, very young and not yet comprehending of the worst cruelties in the galaxy— he watched as Xanatos took one step back. Then another. And another. Until the man’s heels hung over the edge of a spitting pit, the fiery depths illuminating Xanatos in such a way that he looked like a wrathful spirit. Crazed and lethal and so, so broken.

Xanatos had stared at them, eyes alit, and he’d known that despite everything—

It was done.

There was no more he could do. No more choices he could make.

Except one.

As Feemor regards Obi-Wan with the wariness of someone who doesn’t quite know how to approach a wild animal, Obi-Wan remembers the look on Xanatos’ face with a clarity that has never once left him.

No matter how he wished it would.

That day, Andra and Den pulled up close on their swoops and demanded that Xanatos surrender and face trial back in Thani for his crimes.

But instead, Xanatos turned to face Qui-Gon with unwavering eyes. Defiant. Cruel. Sharp with crazed triumph. A gruesome smile cut across his too-pale cheeks.

"You will never have the satisfaction of killing me, Qui-Gon Jinn.” Xanatos said. “And I will never submit to anyone's laws. Your hate drove you, though you won't admit it. You destroyed me because you could not save me. I am your biggest failure. Live with that. And live with this."

Obi-Wan bites back a shudder, unable to erase the image of a body flung by its own power, plummeting into the spitting acid below. Welcoming death like it was his last great vengeance.

But Obi-Wan also remembers the way Xanatos’ eyes had shuttered just briefly before he disappeared over that ledge. He remembers the desolation that entered the man’s eyes. The way his smile lost its edge and the crinkle between his brows tightened.

Obi-Wan hadn’t understood then, but he understands now.

It was the look of a man who had truly given up.

Obi-Wan hasn’t sensed that in Xanatos yet. Not in this lifetime. And he’ll be damned if he’s going to let it come to that again.

So Obi-Wan doesn’t falter, doesn’t dare let his resolve slip.

(if Xanatos can be saved, something whispers soft and dear and so awfully enthralling in his ear, then anyone can)

“Yes,” Obi-Wan says. “I am certain. There’s still hope for Xanatos yet.”

-:-

Xanatos pants as Qui-Gon flings him yet again into a jagged wall. His old Master stalks forward, hair tangled and tumbling over his shoulders, green lightsaber rending the air between them in two.

“Give up, Xanatos. Just let us take you into custody.”

Half-way hysterical laughter bubbles up his throat. “Like I’m going to let you do that.”

With a ruthlessness that doesn’t suit his old Master, Qui-Gon bears down on Xanatos, raising his lightsaber high. And Xanatos who’s been run emotionally and mentally ragged the last few days. Who’s kept up his training but not quite to the physical standards of a mission-active Jedi—

He doesn’t lift his blade fast enough.

With a graceful twist of his ‘sabre, Qui-Gon disarms Xanatos and snatches the hilt before the blade has a chance to snip off. Then he’s standing over Xanatos’ sprawled form, twin lightsabers held in his hands and oddly illuminating his grim features. Without hesitation, he brings the tips of the blades until they thrum hot on either side of Xanatos’ throat.

“Surrender,” Qui-Gon demands. “Come peacefully and you’ll come to no harm.”

It’s like there’s a sudden hollow in Xanatos’ gut, or- or a rending of rotten flesh between his ribs and it’s all he can do to look Qui-Gon in the eye and say, “I think you’ve already done enough harm.”

Qui-Gon doesn’t flinch, Xanatos will give him that. But the man’s lips do purse and the skin about his eyes crinkles in an unattractive way. “Xanatos…” he begins only to trail off.

A burst of awareness lights up the night and a second later Feemor’s choked cry cuts through the air. When Qui-Gon automatically looks to the left, Xanatos lashes out, ducking out from between the lightsabers and kicking at Qui-Gon’s ankles. The man stumbles just in time to miss another kick, only for him to stagger again as Xanatos rolls away to avoid the tiny whirlwind that is Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Unable to resist staring, Xanatos watches as Ol- Obi-Wan twirls and kicks and plants himself right between Qui-Gon and himself. His disbelief is like a punch to the gut. Incapable of reconciling the still hot-awful feeling of betrayal with this clear defense of Xanatos’ life, he glances in Feemor’s direction.

His Padawan-brother kneels on the ground, cupping his already swelling eye as Bruck hovers over his shoulder. Xanatos watches the pair for a moment more, observing as Bruck clearly frets while Feemor attempts to allay his concerns. Before either of them can catch his eye, he turns his attention back to the more immediate concern.

Obi-Wan presses his full body weight against the strength of two sabers. Despite Qui-Gon’s age and experience, he can’t seem to budge the child.

“Why?” Qui-Gon grunts from between gritted teeth, but Xanatos isn’t sure what explanation he’s asking for.

That’s when Xanatos hears the tell-tale, distant hum of a ship.

Instinctively he looks up. High above them is an approaching craft. High enough that the pink of the fast-fading dusk reflects off the hull. It speeds closer and Xanatos gets the vague feeling that he should recognize it. But he doesn’t. Not for another few seconds, at least, and then he’s gasping,

“Moulti.”

It’s enough to distract Obi-Wan.

He lets up just a bit, startled, head jerking as he glances up to follow Xanatos’ gaze. Qui-Gon isn’t expecting this sudden change of pressure. He’s been forcing everything he has into crossing his blades against Obi-Wan’s, eager to tire the child out and make him slip enough to disarm him and figure out what in Sith-hells is going on.

So when Obi-Wan’s hold weakens it’s abrupt and not the gradual change he’s been expecting. The blades slip as Qui-Gon loses his balance and tumbles forward. The warning catches in his throat and Obi-Wan jerks back, eyes widening as he meets Qui-Gon’s gaze. Desperate, he tries to deflect the unstable ‘sabres but they all just end up tangling and crackling unhappily. Obi-Wan plants a quick foot behind him as Qui-Gon tries to plant a steadying foot forward.

Obi-Wan goes down with a cry of pain and the smell of burnt flesh.

Somehow, Qui-Gon remains standing.

Horrified terror pulses hot and quick through Xanatos’ veins. All he can do is stare at the smoking remains of Obi-Wan’s lightsaber hilt, the weakly pulsing kyber crystal at his feet and the way the boy hunches into himself

Qui-Gon stares down in similar horror, grip slack on the lightsabers in his hands. The scarlet of Xanatos’ ‘sabre flickers bloody over Obi-Wan’s small form.

“I—” Qui-Gon chokes. “I didn’t—” He stumbles back a step.

“Kenobi!” Bruck shrieks, darting away from Feemor to rush to Obi-Wan’s side. “Kenobi?!” The boy kneels beside him, hands hovering uncertainly. “Kenobi…?”

With a jerk of his head, Obi-Wan groans high and awful, but he quickly cuts himself off. “I-I’m okay.” He raises his head to look at Qui-Gon, but from here Xanatos can’t see his expression. “I’m all right,” he says more softly, clearly putting in all his effort to appear so.

But Xanatos sees the quaking of his narrow shoulders. Hears the hitch in his breath.

Feeling like he might shatter apart, Xanatos raises his eyes to the sky once again. Moulti’s company ship swoops over them. He can’t see her in the cockpit, but he knows she’s there just as surely as he can hear the whine of the ship’s cannons firing up.

He scrambles to his feet, words ready on his lips—

But it’s too late.

Moulti’s ship lets loose a stream of rapid fire aimed solely at Qui-Gon with his threatening ‘sabres, one so clearly stolen from Xanatos. Moulti should know what she’s doing, but she doesn’t recognize Obi-Wan’s face. Doesn’t care for Bruck who slipped from her grasp. Doesn’t caution firing when two small figures stand so close to her target.

Moulti also doesn’t know that the floor has already protested enough, unhappy with so many visitors fighting atop weakened stone.

When she shoots at Qui-Gon he leaps away and she hits the stone beneath instead.

Ashlanae shudders and groans. The vines that have crept through the ruins and woven their way across the floor sizzle and shiver. Then from one moment to the next, the stone caves and the giant eye the vines have formed gives way to the void below.

It swallows them whole.